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Trouble with contact lenses? Might be your microbiome

The new findings about the eye and microorganisms advances further research into the microbiome (the totality of microorganisms and their genetic interactions within a given niche environment) – in this case the ocular microbiome. The research also highlights how each person can react to a treatment or medical device (in this case, a contact lens) in a different way.

The findings suggest human eyes possess distinct communities of bacteria, as advanced through DNA sequencing technology. Many of the bacteria help fight pathogens that enter the eye; with other the true function is unclear.

A study by Professor Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, from New York University, has been examining the impact and influence of contact lenses on ocular bacteria. Sometimes wearing contact lenses is associated with eye conditions like keratitis.

The study involved isolating and cataloging the type and abundance of bacteria in the eyes of contact lens wearers. This data was compared with people who do not wear contact lenses. The samples were examined using next-generation sequencing, on a device called the Illumina MiSeq platform.

The research output was that over seven million sequencing reads were performed that these generated 11,750 different bacteria. Further analysis revealed the ocular region possesses a high bacterial diversity.

There were also key differences between those who wore contact lenses and those who did not. Here the microbial composition of the ocular surface for contact lens wearers was more closely aligned to the bacteria found on the skin compared with people who did not wear contact lenses.

The next phases is to try and determine what the significance of the bacterial changes in the eye indicate. Interviewed by the website Biotechniques, Professor Dominguez-Bello questioned whether “these bacteria are transferred from the fingers to the lens and to the surface of the eye, or do the lenses exert selective pressures on the eye bacterial community in favor of skin bacteria?”

Whether certain populations of these skin bacteria affect rates of keratitis remains to be seen. It could be that recommendations are made, such as wearing of sterile gloves for fitting and removing contact lenses.

The research has been published in the journal mBio. The research paper is titled “Changes in the eye microbiota associated with contact lens wearing.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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