Flies can be more than pesky picnic crashers, they may be potent pathogen carriers, too, according to an international team of researchers.
In a study of the microbiomes of 116 houseflies and blowflies from three different continents, researchers found, in some cases, these flies carried hundreds of different species of bacteria, many of which are harmful to humans. Because flies often live close to humans, scientists have long suspected they played a role in carrying and spreading diseases, but this study, which was originally initiated at Penn State’s Eberly College of Science, adds further proof, as well as insights into the extent of that threat.
“We believe that this may show a mechanism for pathogen transmission that has been overlooked by public health officials, and flies may contribute to the rapid transmission of pathogens in outbreak situations,” said Donald Bryant, Ernest C. Pollard Professor of Biotechnology and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, Penn State.
According to Stephan Schuster, former professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, Penn State, and now research director at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, the researchers were able to investigate the microbial content of individual fly body parts, including legs and wings. The legs appear to transfer most of the microbial organisms from one surface to another, he added.
“The legs and wings show the highest microbial diversity in the fly body, suggesting that bacteria use the flies as airborne shuttles,” said Schuster. “It may be that bacteria survive their journey, growing and spreading on a new surface. In fact, the study shows that each step of hundreds that a fly has taken leaves behind a microbial colony track, if the new surface supports bacterial growth.”…