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The skin’s secret surveillance system

Microorganisms that reside on the skin found to influence host immunity.

The skin has long been thought of as a mere physical barrier to attack by pathogens. Now, however, researchers are starting to realize that this simplistic view needs a radical rethink.

The folds, follicles and tiny oil-producing glands on the skin's surface create a multitude of diverse habitats, each with its own community of microbes1. Most of these 'commensals' live harmlessly on the skin, and their presence is thought to stop pathogenic microbes from invading the skin's habitats. But these benign residents are not just innocent bystanders — according to a paper published today in Science, skin-specific bacteria also influence the response from the host's immune system to help fight off infection.

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