Diurnal variation in the human skin microbiome affects accuracy of forensic microbiome matching

David Wilkins, Xinzhao Tong, Marcus H.Y. Leung, Christopher E. Mason, Patrick K.H. Lee*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The human skin microbiome has been recently investigated as a potential forensic tool, as people leave traces of their potentially unique microbiomes on objects and surfaces with which they interact. In this metagenomic study of four people in Hong Kong, their homes, and public surfaces in their neighbourhoods, we investigated the stability and identifiability of these microbiota traces on a timescale of hours to days. Results: Using a Canberra distance-based method of comparing skin and surface microbiomes, we found that a person could be accurately matched to their household in 84% of tests and to their neighbourhood in 50% of tests, and that matching accuracy did not decay for household surfaces over the 10-day study period, although it did for public surfaces. The time of day at which a skin or surface sample was taken affected matching accuracy, and 160 species across all sites were found to have a significant variation in abundance between morning and evening samples. We hypothesised that daily routines drive a rhythm of daytime dispersal from the pooled public surface microbiome followed by normalisation of a person’s microbiome by contact with their household microbial reservoir, and Dynamic Bayesian Networks (DBNs) supported dispersal from public surfaces to skin as the major dispersal route among all sites studied. Conclusions: These results suggest that in addition to considering the decay of microbiota traces with time, diurnal patterns in microbiome exposure that contribute to the human skin microbiome assemblage must also be considered in developing this as a potential forensic method. [MediaObject not available: see fulltext.].

Original languageEnglish
Article number129
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Built environment
  • Forensics
  • Microbiota
  • Skin
  • Surface


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