This picture will make you want to wash your hands for the rest of time

You are filthy. We don’t mean that pejoratively – we are too. The human body is covered in millions of microbial lifeforms. Fortunately, the human eye is too weak to see our friendly and not-so-friendly tenants, so we can still manage a good night’s sleep most of the time.

This picture will make you want to wash your hands for the rest of time

Until we make the mistake of putting our hands in a petri dish.

The photograph above, via Microbe World, comes from the hand of microbiology lab technician Tasha Sturm’s 8-year-old son after playing outside. After pressing his hand in a petri dish, the varied bouquet of bacteria grew over several days.

Sturm will be running tests to establish a “Who’s Who” of the occupants of the dish, but her early hunch suggests that yeast, fungus and bacteria are all present and accounted for. In particular, she reckons the large white blob in the bottom of the palm is likely to be Bacillus, while the yellow and orange spots could be yeast.


So how did her 8-year-old react to the state of his hands? We’re pleased to report that being raised in such a scientifically curious environment seems to have rubbed off on him. Her daughter is also keen to get in on the bacteria gardening game. According to Today, Sturm reported her response as pure enthusiasm: “Let’s do the dog’s nose, let’s do the paw, let’s do the cat’s tail.”

Although the contents of the petri dish may make you feel unclean, and possibly a bit queasy, it’s important to remember that the majority of them are harmless, and some will even be helpful to our health. “It’s normal stuff that we’re exposed to every day. The skin protects us from a lot of the bad stuff out there,” explained Sturm.

“The take-home message is that to have a healthy immune system, you’ve got to be exposed to stuff.”

She’s absolutely right, of course, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be extra careful when scrubbing our hands today. 

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