Thought experiment on scope of human bacterial cloud

Today I read a few news sites carrying a story about the unique cloud of bacteria that floats around each person, Pig Pen style so I decided it’s time to ask.

So my thought experiment is this:

I have a magical Star Trek Transporter device. It can move matter from place to place without it having to pass through the intervening space. I lay on my back on a table and use the transporter to move all the bacteria, fungus, and viruses that live on and inside my body exactly one metre to my left where there is another table covered in the cleanest sheet imaginable. Each bacteria and spore and virus moves 1m relative to where it started, so the bacteria at the tip of my nose arrive a dozen or so centimetres above the sheet on the other table, while the bacteria calling my bum cheeks home are pretty much already on the sheet when the transporter moves them. The transporter moves the whole colony at once, it doesn’t scan progressively from end to end.

  1. I asked the transporter operator to move anything that does not contain my DNA over to the other table. Is this the right way to filter myself from the bacteria, yeasts, and viruses?

2abc) I’ve instantly lost some weight. About how much? Does my appearance change? Would I sense the change in any way?

3ab) In the instant after the transporter is done, but before the bacteria and such have a chance to fall (waft slowly? splat immediately?) down to the white sheet, can you see a 3D fuzzy outline of a human shape with the naked eye?

  1. There are probably thicker densities of goo in certain areas inside and outside the 3D cloud, like the digestive tract, the armpits, genitals, feet. Where else? Are there any areas completely clear of bacteria etc?

  2. What colour is the sheet after the 3D fuzzy cloud is claimed by gravity?

  3. I’m in serious trouble, health-wise, right? What’s going to happen to me as a result of losing my symbiotic and parasitical friends?

When you filter by “my DNA” you’ll want to be sure you leave the mitochondria, which have their own DNA. Taking them out would definitely kill you right away. Also, using that specific filter would probably remove any reproductive cells (sperm, ova), since they only have a random half of your DNA. That would sterilize a woman, but a man would restore the supply pretty quickly.

I’m not really sure on the rest of it. WAG is that you’d be looking at a couple pounds, tops, mostly from the digestive tract, skin and respiratory tract. Muscle and bone tissue shouldn’t contain much in a healthy person. I don’t think any of these are necessary to life, but removing stable colonies can open you up to opportunistic invaders that might not agree with you. For example, C diff infections in people who have taken antibiotics.

Your filter isn’t quite right. “Remove everything that doesn’t contain my DNA” will wash down your red blood cells with the bathwater. A better criterion would be “remove everything that contains DNA that isn’t mine”. Though as dracoi says, you’d better make sure that your mitochondrial DNA counts as “yours”.

2: IIRC you’ve lost a few pounds, but nearly all of it was in your intestine. I imagine you’d notice the sudden vacuum and resulting spasms in your intestine.

3-4: The stuff in your intestine and colon would, at the instant of transport, form a very neat cast of your innards. There would definitely be rather large splat. (Transporter clean up duty would be even worse than holodeck clean up…)

Theoretically there’d be some sort of haze from everything living on your skin. It probably wouldn’t be visible to the naked eye, except in the areas where it is really concentrated (armpits, belly button, toenails, between your teeth, etc.) Scrape some plaque off your teeth to get an idea what macroscopic quantities of bacteria look like.

5: A lot of brown. Some tan, with the occasional pink, yellow, or green hue.

6: You’ll have some digestive trouble that might be mild (a few days of… irregularities) or severe (e.g. a nasty intestinal pathogen like C. difficile doesn’t even have to compete with the normal intestinal microbiota). I wouldn’t be surprised if you had some skin trouble, again mostly due to increased susceptibility to the more aggressive microbes in the environment.

But you’d also be less smelly. Probably wouldn’t need any deodorant for a few days or weeks.

Fun, thanks for all the answers. I knew that I didn’t know enough about DNA for my filter directions to the Scottish gentleman operating the transporter.

I would have guessed much higher on the weight and I guessed that I’d be in most serious trouble from other more dangerous bacteria and second most serious trouble from starvation. I thought we needed the bacteria to get any kind of nutrition from food.

I also forgot the obligatory XKCD link to the big pile of viruses “What If”.

I can answer this part, just from being in the midst of 3 days of IV and now daily antibiotic pills:
you will be spending a lot of time in the bathroom, and spending money to buy additional supplies of toilet paper. IOW, you will have serious diarrhea for a while.

And it can become even more serious – the disappearance of all the normal symbiotic bacteria in your guts will leave open the possibility that it is replaced by other bacteria that is not as symbiotic, and can get you seriously ill.

Complete nightmare for OCD cleaners.