What skin piercings can teach us about environmental change
In a new study from McGill University, researchers bring science into an unexpected setting: a tattoo parlor. In this first characterization of the human piercing microbiome, the uniquely human cultural practice of piercing serves as a model system to help us better understand how biological communities (re)assemble after catastrophic environmental disturbances.
The process of piercing typically begins with sterilization of the skin, which removes the resident microbes. The piercing itself then creates a new environment that differs from the previously unpierced skin in many ways and serves as a ‘clean slate’ for a new microbial community to colonize.
“We know from anthropology and sociology that piercings are uniquely human symbols of expression, connection, and identity,” says Charles Xu, the Biology PhD student who led the study. “With this study, we've shown that skin piercings also represent an unintentional act of ecosystem self-engineering of the ecological landscape that is the human skin.”