A team of researchers has found that a common skin bacterium is actually beneficial and can protect humans against disease. The bacteria act as antioxidants and secrete proteins that reduce oxidative stress. The details are in a paper that was just published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Bacteria aren’t always harmful and there are a number of beneficial species that live in our bodies. Beneficial bacteria can improve metabolism, aid digestion, and boost the immune system. This has led many doctors to prescribe probiotics, which are living bacteria and yeast species that have been found to be helpful.
Researchers from Lund University in Sweden studied a bacterium called Propionibacterium acnes, which is commonly found living on human skin. Although the bacteria were first discovered on an acne patient, the bacteria’s presence was most likely coincidental—there’s no evidence that P.acnes actually causes acne. The team found that P.acnes secretes a protein that the scientists named RoxP. They chose this name because the protein acts as a radical oxygenase, also known as an antioxidant. Antioxidants destroy dangerous free radicals and protect the body from oxidative stress. A common example of oxidative stress is damage from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. P.acnes needs RoxP to survive and the protective benefits end up helping humans, too. Protection from oxidative stress can reduce occurrences of skin cancer, dermatitis, psoriasis, and other skin diseases.
The team’s findings show that the bacterium P.acnes, which lives on human skin, is actually beneficial and reduces oxidative stress from sources such as sunrays. The bacteria are common but some people have larger colonies present. The research team is already planning future studies to investigate a possible connection between the severity of skin diseases and the number of P.acnes bacteria present. They have also planned a study to test the effectiveness of P.acnes in preventing ultraviolet damage in laboratory mice. If the experiment has positive results, the RoxP protein may be used in sunscreens and certain medical treatments in the future.
Allhorn et al. A novel enzyme with antioxidant capacity produced by the ubiquitous skin colonizer Propionibacterium acnes. Scientific Reports (2016).