Our Faces Are Covered With Tiny Mites, Study Reveals

Posted: Dec 15 2015, 9:11am CST | by , in News | Latest Science News

Our Faces are Covered with Tiny Mites, Study Reveals
A close look at mitochondrial DNA in mite samples. Credit: California Academy of Sciences

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Scientists say face mites are linked to human evolutionary history.

Scientists have discovered a unique truth about humans and that is that we all have mites on our faces.

Genetic testing revealed that these face mites, scientifically known as Demodex folliculorum, are as old as humans themselves. They follow families through generations and surprisingly different human populations have different mites but usually they do not transfer between humans.

The face mites will help better understand the evolution of human beings and what kind of role this microscopic animal plays in human’s health. Despite the fact they have been living on our faces for thousands of years, we have known very little about these mites until now.

“It’s shocking that we’re only just discovering how deeply our histories are shared with mites on our bodies,” said Dr. Michelle Trautwein, one of the authors of the study. “They aren’t just bugs on our faces, they are storytellers. Mites tell us about our own ancient history – it's a complex story, and we've only just scratched the surface.”

For the study, researchers collected mite samples from humans around the world. They rubbed the curved end of a bobby pin across participant’s forehead as well as cheeks and outer nose. Then, they sequenced mitochondrial DNA to find out how these mites are evolved.

“We discovered that people from different parts of the world host different mite lineages,” said Trautwein. “The continent where a person’s ancestry originated tended to predict the types of mites on our faces.”

Surprising thing was some African Americans who had been living in U.S. for generations still had African mites, which indicates some mite populations may have better ability to survive and reproduce than others.

“We found that mite lineages can persist in hosts for generations. Even if you move to a faraway region, your mites stick with you.” Trautwein explained.

The study further suggests that these mites are not easily transferable and it’s not like they jump to others when you hug someone and shake your hands with them.

“Another exiting mite revelation from our work is that mites are not shared easily. Mites are not casually transferred to passersby on the street. We seem to share mites primarily with our family, so it likely takes very close physical contact to transmit mites.” Trautwein said.

Face mites basically exist all over the human body, from ears to eyebrows to eyelashes, feed on skin cells and oils and mostly they are harmless. But scientists believe some may cause various eye and skin disorders including rosacea and blepharitis. This is one of the reasons why scientists want to continue research on these persistent human companions. They are also hoping to find out how these tiny mites are linked to human evolutionary history.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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