Oral Microbes Linked With Ethnicity

A very interesting study has just been finished in Columbus Ohio, and it turns out that you can identify ethnicity to a very large extent using oral bacteria that you gather from the mouth. Although it is still in it’s infancy, this type of testing and analysis could be used as a new method of identification.

What Our Microbes Tell Us

Four ethnic groups participated in the study, namely, non-Hispanic whites, African Americans, Latinos and Chinese Americans. African Americans could be identified 100% of the time, Latinos 67%, Caucasians were identified 50% of the time, and Chinese people 62% of the time. This is walloping, and although the data needs to be further analysed, and control studies need to be made, the finding say that this could be (and the numbers definitely say they could) a way to analyze people. This can be useful in identifying corpses in a fire or when they have become unrecognizable, or possibly this can be used in the court as evidence.

It is also unclear whether the food eaten is what is causing certain microbes to flourish, or if some microbes simply like hosts of a certain ethnicity better for other, biological reasons.




Overall, 398 species of microbes were identified and used as in the study. Each person tested had around 150 separate species of microbes living in their mouth at any given time. The funny  thing is though, only about 2% of that 398 species were present in all of the participants mouths, so only about 2% of oral microbes are common to all the people tested. That is some unexpected and quite honestly incredible diversity!

It also turns out that microbes living deeper in the mouth are better for identifying people than species taken from the surface of the teeth or from the tongue and cheeks. This is because the bacteria that live in in the subgingival (this means below the gum) layers of the mouth are less likely to be killed by competing bacteria, toothpaste, alcohol, tobacco or any other outside factors. That these microbes are better for identifying ethnicity is significant, but no long term conclusions can be drawn from it yet. However, the study did confirm some interesting ethnicity/race related dental facts we already know about: people of African ancestry are more susceptible to gum disease, for instance. All in all the study has a lot of potential, and can be the basis of further future developments. The study can be viewed in the October 23rd issue of PLOS ONE journal.

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