Beards, microbial masterpieces

It seems that beards are everywhere these days, heck, even as I type, a beard adorns my very face. Yes, from George Michael stubble, to the full hipster beard, facial hair has never been more popular. However, beards have been judged for more than just their aesthetics in recent years. A report by Action 7 News in Albuquerque, New Mexico, found that beards contain some of the same bacteria found in faecal matter. This sent media outlets around the world into a frenzy, as The Mirror opened on 3rd May 2015 with the headline:

  • ‘Some beards contain more poo than a toilet shocking study reveals’ 

The key message from this was misconstrued. What this statement should have sounded more like ‘Beards contain some bacteria similar in composition to those found in faeces’, as opposed to bacteria from genuine poo, which would quite frankly be disgusting. But if indeed men’s beards were dirtier than toilets, then it’s nothing that a bit of soap and water couldn’t sort out.

Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

Recent findings by the BBC’s Trust Me, I’m a Doctor series suggest that beards may even be a source for development of new antibiotics! Antibiotic resistance is one of the key issues of our time as superbugs continue to wreak havoc through our hospitals, and once minor conditions could become fatal. It was discussed at the 2016 World Economics Forum, Davos where several of the largest drugs companies and the world’s governments called for greater research into antibiotic development and a reduction in their overuse.

So, you may be wondering, where do beards fit into all this?  Well, researchers at University College London randomly sampled bearded men, and over 100 different bacteria were cultured. Staphylococcus epidermis, present in some of the samples, was shown to kill off Escherichia coli (E. coli). You may be thinking ‘pfft whatever, can a beard really do that?’ but through history many discoveries have occurred by happenstance, and in the most unlikely of places. Alexander Fleming first discovered penicillin when mold from an open window blew into an uncovered Petri dish containing Staphylococcus, halting its growth and survival. Even as a recently as 2015, researchers in Boston, Massachusetts, discovered Teixobactin in soil samples, capable of treating Clostridium difficile (C. Diff) and Tuberculosis.


If this hasn’t tempted you to love beards for what they are and their tremendous diversity, then I don’t know what will, but mine is staying firmly on my face.


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