Microbes. Most of us are generally aware that these micro-organisms-- like bacteria, amoebas and fungi-- are all around us, but only the malevolent kind seem to make it into the headlines, and our popular consciousness.

"You hear all the time in the news about microbes in the gut in relation to obesity and arthritis and diabetes. There’s this realization that’s going on in society that microbes are even more important than we thought," says microbiologist David Coil.

Recently, astounding figures have been tossed around about the human microbiome–the population of microbes that live on and in us. Current estimates suggest there are 10 times more microbial cells in our personal biome than actual cells of our own bodies. So with that huge number, it’s hard to fathom the population that lives on the rest of the earth and all its other inhabitants.

That's the goal of the Earth Microbe Biome Map–to plot which microbes appear in which locations all over the earth.  There's an effort underway to enlist citizen scientists to contribute microbial samples collected from their shoes and cell phones. 

David Coil explains, "Shoes are interesting b/c they serve as a sort of microbial collection device. Everywhere you go, you pick up microbes and we can look at that just by swabbing your shoe, instead of having to crawl all over the neighborhood." 

"But most of the junk and the diversity is on your cell phone more than your shoe," counters Darlene Cavalier, founder of the citizen science website SciStarter, and project director for this effort.  That's because your cell phone is picking up some of the millions of microbes that are found in and on humans. 

The Pulse visited a collecting event at a Sixers game in February.  Click on the yellow link above to hear the story.

You can contribute your own cell phone and shoe samples at the Philadelphia Science Festival, which begins on April 25th. To learn more about the project, visit spacemicrobes.org.


Video by Kimberly Paynter