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What chemicals or critters do you encounter daily? Stanford researchers are taking a look

Stanford researcher Michael Snyder describes his work cataloging the vast number of environmental particulates individuals are exposed to.

Some scientists interested in understanding health hazards in the environment measure such exposure on the city level -- what it looks like in New York City, for example, or San Francisco.

But Stanford professor and chair of genetics Michael Snyder, MD, is flipping that notion on its head. He and postdoctoral scholar Chao Jiang, PhD, have devised a way to capture data on microscopic biological and chemical particulates that individuals encounter on a daily basis. They call it a personal "exposome," and they say this information can add a new dimension to understanding a person's health.

A short video from Seeker explains their approach.

So far, through a pilot study of 15 participants in the San Francisco Bay Area, the researchers discovered exposure to 2,500 species and 3,000 chemical signatures, including certain bacteria found in sludge and traces of the compound DEET, the most common active ingredient in insect repellents.

"We discovered the exposome is vast," Snyder says in the video. "We discovered it's dynamic. We can classify these exposures as bacterial dominant, fungal dominant, plant dominant or mixed. And what we've discovered is that they'll vary from location to location."

To investigate exposomes in different locations, Snyder and Jiang hope to expand their research to include 1,000 people.

However, Snyder didn't want to wait for others to sign up: He already is participating. He uses eight devices, including three smartwatches and a sensor ring, to constantly monitor his own health measurements.

"We want to learn exactly what exposures are doing to individual people's health," Snyder says. "There's so much we don't know, and this is why we went after this."

Photo by Samuel Zeller

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