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It Takes Mere Hours for Your Microbes to Colonize Your New Apartment

The second you move into a new home, the bacteria that live on your body get to work taking over whatever already lived there.

The microbes living on your body can colonize a new house and become the dominant force there within a matter of hours, according to new research.

The microbial communities on our cell phones look like the ones on our hands, so it makes sense that the microbes living in your house are the same ones that live in and on your body. 

But what's shocking is just how fast the colonization takes place: When people move to a new house, within hours, their microbiomes have taken over the doorknobs, the bedspread, the kitchen counters, the bathtub, and so on and so forth. Their old home begins to look different within hours, too.

This screenshot from the video above shows just how far our microbiome can spread.

The project, called the Home Microbiome Project, followed seven different US families. Turns out, the bacteria living in each home varied widely, but corresponded closely with the ones living on its residents' skin.

"When people moved homes, when they moved from a hotel to a home, their microbial fingerprint came with them," Jack Gilbert, a University of Chicago researcher who worked on the project, said in a video explaining it. "The bacterial communities in the new home were overwritten and were completely wiped out by the family in the new space."

Perhaps that shouldn't be surprising: In a paper published in Science, Gilbert notes that touching a surface can transfer "millions of microbial cells per event," and wrote that breathing, coughing, touching, skin shedding, and, well, just plain existing ends up leading to a lot of bacterial transfer.

So, why does this matter? Well, increasingly, researchers are learning that our microbiomes can affect our behavior, how we digest food, and even our neurological development. Knowing what's living inside and among us is the first step toward figuring out how our bacteria affect how we function