Beard bacteria may be crucial in developing new antibiotics, according to a recent study appearing in the Journal of Hospital Infection, and featured in the BBC documentary series “Trust me, I’m a doctor”.
Research was led by Adam Roberts, microbiologist at University College London, in the United Kingdom. Roberts’ curiosity was actually piqued by a prior survey conducted by a reporter from Albuquerque, New Mexico, whose findings caused quite a stir last year.
The journalist had required a microbiologist to examine samples collected from men’s beards, only to reach a rather startling conclusion: some facial hair was allegedly more filled with human excrement than ordinary toilets.
While the news obviously generated considerable interest at the time, it was actually a heavily sensationalized recounting of the actual discovery: enteric bacteria, commonly found in the intestine, had been identified in the beard samples.
Roberts was still well aware of the importance these pathogens might have, which is why he decided to conduct his own study, in order to analyze the prevalence of such beard bacteria, and their potential effect on other microbes.
The experiment was based on swab samples collected in 2013, during a study involving a group of 408 male staff members, affiliated with 2 university hospitals. Some of those subjects had been clean-shaven, while others had been bearded or exhibiting other types of facial hair.
The focus was obviously on the latter category: by analyzing hair samples belonging to around 20 bearded individuals, researchers were able to identify around 100 different types of beard bacteria.
Surprisingly, fecal pathogens weren’t encountered in any of the samples, thus calling into question the findings of the prior study.
On the other hand, experts did identify approximately 50 kinds of beard bacteria that could prove instrumental in the development of new antibiotics.
By investigating interactions between microbes found in beard samples and other pathogen varieties, it was determined that approximately a quarter of the facial hair bacteria could effectively combat other strains, basically generating compounds similar to modern-day antibiotics.
It’s true that the serotypes that were included in the experiment belonged to less dangerous types of microorganisms.
However, study authors still believe that if they continue their research by using a larger assortment of indicator strains, they might prove that beard bacteria can become the ultimate weapon against more aggressive pathogens, that have developed resistance against a wide variety of antimicrobials.
For example, placing more focus on this new area of investigation might allow scientists to create more potent treatments against Candida Albicans (responsible for yeast infections), Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), E.coli (resulting in 85% of all the urinary tract infections occurring nowadays) etc.
Such discoveries would prove extremely beneficial nowadays, given the fact that the abuse of antibiotics has contributed to the emergence of superbugs, which have turned previously treatable infections into incredibly debilitating and potentially deadly diseases.
As experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have estimated, around 2 million Americans contract drug-resistant bacteria on a yearly basis, and 23,000 people die following such infections, so any progress in this area would be more than welcome.
On the other hand, even if Roberts and his team were to find beard bacteria that could be used against mutant, drug-resistant pathogens, it would still take some times before these treatments become commercially available.
More likely than not, such a venture would require investments of millions of dollars, and around a decade would have to pass before the medicine is fully tested and approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.
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