MadSci Network: Microbiology

Re: Can common microorganisms grow on human hair?

Date: Thu May 20 16:42:46 1999
Posted By: Andrew D. Brabban, Faculty, Biology, The Evergreen State College
Area of science: Microbiology
ID: 927008247.Mi

Yes they can Hair the material is composed of a protein called keratin. This 
protein is not just the building block of hair but also fingernails, claws, 
wool, feathers and insect exoskeletons. Over time in the environment these 
are broken down by bacteria which can utilize this nitrogen rich nutrient. 
The limiting factor in this process as with most other biological systems is 
water. So you would need to do is put the hair in water with some salts such 
as NaCl, Na2SO4, MgCl2. CaNO3, so some minerals are available as well. As 
for the type of organisms to look at. You want  microorganisms that are good 
at degrading polymers such as keratin. Most organisms produce a wide array 
of extracellular proteases which will degrade the keratin but probably the 
best are members of the genus Bacillus or Streptomyces.

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