All Stories

The secret world of skin

There is more to your skin than meets your eyes. Not only does your skin protect you from intruders, but it hosts its own microbes such as bacteria and fungi. This is especially true of your feet.

You’ve probably experienced stinky feet—either your own or a friend’s. This common summertime snag can be due to athlete’s foot fungus or its companion, toenail fungus. These fungi thrive in warm and moist environments, which upset the skin microbes already living on our feet, but help the fungi spread quite quickly. Gross and cool at the same time!

By collecting DNA and skin culture samples of healthy and infected study participants, a group of scientists at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda Maryland have learned more about the different types of fungi that can live on our skin. They sequenced bacterial and fungal genetic material and learned that there are many more kinds of microbes living on our skin than we initially thought.

Microbe diversity depends on a few key criteria: skin type; where the skin is located; and what the skin is exposed to. The scientists found that fungi grow the most wildly on heels, toe nails and toe webs. Now you know what to blame for your pungent sneakers!

The scientists hope that their research can be used to better understand how microbe diseases progress and how the variety of microbes on our skin contribute to our overall health.

To learn more about what lives on your skin, visit our “What’s eating you?” parasite game located in the BodyWorks Gallery on level two at TELUS World of Science.

Further Information

Learn more about what your skin does: Nature News | The skin’s secret surveillance system 
Check out this cool video to learn about other microbes found in and on your body: Ted Ed | You are your microbes


Findley, K., Oh, J., Yang, J., Conlan, S., Deming, C., Meyer, J., Schoenfeld, D., Nomicos, E. & Park, M. (2013). “Topographic diversity of fungal and bacterial communities in human skin.” Nature. 498(7454), 367-370. doi:10.1038/nature12171.