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Bacterial Mixture on the Skin Associated with Skin Cancer


Members of the Cluster of Excellence “Inflammation at Interfaces” Improve Existing Analysis Methods

Millions of bacteria live on the surface of our skin. This composition is very distinct and is characterized, among other things, by our genetic features. Researchers of the Cluster of Excellence “Inflammation at Interfaces” under the direction of Professor John Baines (Faculty of Medicine of Kiel University and the Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Biology at Plön) and Professor Saleh Ibrahim (University of Lübeck) have now discovered a new possible application for an activity-based analysis of bacteria communities. Their findings could form the basis for new kinds of skin cancer treatment. The study was recently published in the journal Microbiome.

The microbiome – i.e. the entire population of bacteria and microorganisms that live in and on a person – is currently the focus of research in the life sciences. Much is already known about the intestinal microbiome such as the enormous influence it has on our immune system. But the skin as well, with a surface area of around two square meters (approx. 21.5 square feet), thus making it the largest organ in the human body, is inhabited by numerous bacteria. Most of them are useful cohabitants because they protect our bodies from damaging external influences. Current research is focusing more and more on the microbiome of the skin. Professor Baines: “In our current study, we have already been able to significantly improve established methods for analyzing the socialization of bacteria on the skin. Thus, we were able to demonstrate that there was also a correlation between bacterial colonization and pathogenesis.” This interaction is also a focus of the Kiel Evolution Center (KEC), whereby the application of evolutionary principles is used to solve medical issues.

Lead author Meriem Belheouane’s team is researching the correlation between the genetic factors of the host with the bacteria communities on the skin of mice. The interdisciplinary working group, which also included members of the Research Training Group “genes, environment, inflammation”, the Kiel Evolution Center and the University of Lübeck, discovered that a majority of genes that influence the bacteria are also associated with the development of cancer and chronic inflammatory diseases. These findings are largely based on the analysis of the activity of individual bacteria and their community using special molecular biological methods. Lead author Belheouane: “Our new findings could provide important insights into how inflammatory skin diseases or skin cancer can be diagnosed at a very early stage. To achieve this, our findings still need to be improved so that a more direct correlation between the microbial colonization and the diseases mentioned can be identified.”


Link to the original publication:

Belheouane, M, Gupta, Y, Künzel, S, Ibrahim, S, and Baines, JF (2017): Improved detection of gene-microbe interactions in the mouse skin microbiota using high-resolution QTL mapping of 16S rRNA transcripts. Microbiome,


Professor John Baines
Cluster of Excellence “Inflammation at Interfaces”
Phone: +49 (0)4522 763 367


Photographic material can be downloaded at:


A skin swab is taken from a patient.
Photo: John Baines


Cluster of Excellence "Inflammation at Interfaces"
Scientific Office, Head: Dr. habil. Susanne Holstein
Press and Communications, Dr. Tebke Böschen
Postal address: Christian-Albrechts-Platz 4, 24118 Kiel,  Germany
Tel.: +49 (0)431 880-4682, Fax: +49 (0)431 880-4894

The Cluster of Excellence "Inflammation at Interfaces" has been funded since 2007 by the Excellence Initiative of the German Government and the federal states with a total budget of 68 million Euros. It is currently in its second phase of funding. Around 300 cluster members are spread across the four locations: Kiel (Kiel University, University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein (UKSH)), Lübeck (University of Lübeck, UKSH), Plön (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology) and Borstel (Research Center Borstel (FZB) – Center for Medicine and Biosciences) and are researching an innovative, systematic approach to the phenomenon of inflammation, which can affect all barrier organs such as the intestines, lungs and skin.

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