Hello, my science junkies! So sorry for the long hiatus–things have been pretty busy for me. In fact, they still are, so I’m going to rely on something I was alerted to by NPR for an interesting story that involves something we all love (and hate) to discuss–the bathroom. We all knew this day would come, so let’s just get it over with.
A new study funded partly by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute looked into the types of bacteria living in a public restroom. Their target–restrooms at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Well…you can imagine all the wonderful findings they came out with! They were able to identify 19 phyla of bacteria just by swabbing a dozen bathrooms on campus. These bacteria were found on practically every surface you can name in a bathroom–ranging from the toilet, to the soap dispenser (ironic, right), to the floor and handles. I’m not sure if they tried swabbing the ceiling for bacteria but it seems like at the rate they were going, I wouldn’t be surprised to find some tuberculosis coming out of the vents (is tuberculosis caused by a bacterium? Maybe I should look that up.).
Researchers found that there were 3 major bacterial communities taking residence in the loo, and they cluster by general location. These locations are the floor, the toilet area, and the handles and appliances you touch with your hands. Not surprisingly, it would seem that most of the bacteria around the toilet comes from fecal matter and urine. Oh yeah. The bacteria on the floor were typically associated with living in the soil, so they were probably brought in when you stepped in the dirt and ran around the bathroom screaming, “Look at me, no hands!” Sorry, that might have been uncalled for. And of course, skin associated bacteria were found clustering on the things in the bathroom you touch. So not only do you have to wash your hands, but you have to be careful not to put the bacteria all back on your hands before you leave the potty. Talk about the need for major sanitizer.
While reading the study, I found a pretty funny quote. It reads, “Interestingly, some of the toilet flush handles harbored bacterial communities similar to those found on the floor, suggesting that some users of these toilets may operate the handle with a foot (a practice well known to germaphobes and those who have had the misfortune of using restrooms that are less than sanitary).” Can’t say I’ve done that before…but after reading this study, I may feel more compelled to.
There are some really funny and disgustingly eye-opening graphs in this paper that are worth a gander. I seriously enjoyed myself, but that may be because I’m a typical male pig who spent his childhood laughing at the word doody. In fact, I just recently bought my friend the game doody head. But I digress.
In their study, nobody is safe from blame. The study notes that it was done in a University, where students are notoriously bad at cleaning their hands (and typically don’t even bother). But don’t go pointing the finger at men–in the women’s bathroom, urine played a significant role in the bacteria found throughout the room, which implies a lack of hygiene while on the toilet, and that they weren’t always washing their hands. So in general, we all have to do a better job at cleaning ourselves when emptying the tank.
I may not be able to explain just why these researchers thought this study was a great idea, but hey, it certainly entertained me. Hope it entertains you as well. Hopefully I’ll get you a less doody-filled update soon!