Photo by: Purwo Kuncoro

Origin Stories: Face Mites

The bad news is that everybody has face mites. Our faces are crawling with these tiny cousins of spiders and ticks. The good news is that though they may be linked to a few skin disorders, they seem to be harmless for the vast majority of us.

Face Mite Close-Up courtesy of the California Academy of Sciences

Face mite close-up courtesy of the California Academy of Sciences

In this episode, entomologist and evolutionary biologist Michelle Trautwein describes how she and her colleagues collected face mite DNA from a variety of people with diverse geographic ancestry. They wanted to know if we all host the same mite lineages or if there is a lot of genetic variation between mites from different hosts from around the world.

The results of this study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences were surprising. They also further confirmed our current understanding of human migration through time.

Listen as we explore the lives of face mites, and learn how studying these close personal friends of ours may help us answer new questions about our own evolution.

Trautwein and Leong sampling faces for mite DNA at the California Academy of Sciences

Michelle Trautwein and Misha Leong sampling faces for mite DNA at the California Academy of Sciences

Links to learn more:

Read Trautwein’s paper on face mites by following this link to PNAS.

Read the full text of the lice study referenced in the episode by following this link to the Oxford Journal of Molecular Biology and Evolution.

Ed Yong wrote about the study for The Atlantic.

 

 

 

 

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Here’s one last photo of our face mite companions. This one is for the very brave.

Overview of a bundle of face mites magnified 150x. Courtesy of the USDA Electron and Confocal Unit Microscopy.

Overview of a bundle of face mites magnified 150x. Courtesy of the USDA Electron and Confocal Microscopy Unit



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