How derby bumps transfer bacteria: 'It's a study about cooties'

EUGENE, Ore. -- University of Oregon biology researchers turned the roller derby rink for help with a gross, but fascinating science experiment on how skin-to-skin contact transfers bacteria.

During the average bout derby girls leave each other with plenty of bruises. Yet researchers found that the throwing of elbows also passes bacteria between derby players.

UO biology researchers James Meadow and Ashley Bateman co-authored a research paper that analyzed how skin-to-skin contact transfers bacteria. To conduct the experiment, the researchers took skin swabs of derby teams after they held bouts with out-of-state teams.

Meadows said that every human being has a particular set of micro-bacteria on their skin that is determined by their particular environment.

"It's kind of the perfect system. For one thing, they all come together from different places and bring (their bacteria) to the tournament," said Meadow. "They are in a relatively clean environment and they are constantly coming into contact with each-other."

The researchers took swabs of derby teams from Washington, DC, California and Eugene before and after a bout. They found that each team had distinct sets of bacterial communities before the tournament, and recorded a noticeable change afterward.

"We've known for a long time that we can transfer pathogens, because that's how you get sick. But up to this point we haven't had a study that shows people can transfer the good bacteria, too," Bateman said.

Meadow added, "It's a study about cooties, really."

The research team said that the next step is to see how long those bacteria from other people stay with us.

"We don't know how long that contact had an effect. We sampled right before and right after the tournament but we don't know how long those transfers lasted," Meadow said.