Cell phones reflect the personal microbial world of their owners, with potential implications for their use as bacterial and environmental sensors, according to new research. New research focused on the personal microbiome – the collection of microorganisms on items regularly worn or carried by a person – demonstrates the significant microbiological connection we share with our phones.

To test our biological connection with phones, University of Oregon researchers sequenced microbes from the dominant-hand index fingers and thumbs of 17 subjects and from the touchscreens of their smartphones, during a recent Robert Wood Johnson Foundation workshop in Princeton, New Jersey. The study found smartphones closely resembled the microbiome sampled from their owner’s finger, with 82% of the most common bacteria on participants’ fingers also found on their phones.

Interestingly, women were found to be more closely connected, microbiologically speaking, to their phones than were men. Although men and women were both statistically similar to their own phones, the relationship was stronger for women than for men. The findings appear in the online open-access, peer-reviewed journal PeerJ.

The most commonly found bacteria were from three genera that are ubiquitous on and in humans: Streptococcus, which is commonly found in the mouth, and Staphylococcus and Corynebacterium, both common skin residents.