Robert Michaud ’14, research

On this webpage, I will be keeping everyone updated on the progress of my experiment. I will be posting information about the participant numbers and photographs of the original plates so people will be able to see what was on their hands if they know their participant ID number. Also, as I start to collect information and input the data, I will present some of the information here. I would love to answer any questions or describe more about the project to anyone. If you are interested in talking with me, please email me at

Robert G. Michaud Jr.

February 2014

It is a very exciting time. I met with Dr. Elizabeth Auger last night and started talking about continuing my research! We made some awesome breakthroughs with how to analyze my current data. This means the research is back up and running full steam ahead. My goal is to collect a total of 50 participants (20 new participants) by the end of March 2014. With this information, I will be able to have a strong presentation with some statistical data. With the 28 participants I have collected so far, I have noticed that there are some interesting correlations.  The following is the preliminary findings from the summer data.

As always, if you have any questions please feel free to email me at

Preliminary Findings

Research was conducted in the summer of 2013 as a preliminary study. There were 24 participants in this preliminary study. There were 10 males and 14 females (mean male age = 29.8 years, SD = 14.5 years; mean female age = 44.4 years, SD = 19.6 years; mean age overall = 38.6 years, SD = 19.6 years). There were two left-handed participants and 22 right-handed participants.

An analysis of variance was conducted examining those who were in contact with farm animals within 24 hours and those who were not in contact with farm animals within 24 hours. The following significant results were reported:

—Total morphogroups observed on palm (F=24.88, p<0.001), total morphogroups observed on fingers (F=14.54, p=0.001), and total morphogroups observed for hands and fingers combined (F=31.61, p<0.001). Morphogroups are defined in this study as unique colonies observed on a growth media plate. There were no significant findings for total number of colonies observed. 

—There was a moderate-high correlation observed between total animal exposures within 24 hours and total morphogroups observed on the palm (r=0.696, p<0.001) and total morphogroups observed on the fingers and palm combined (r= 0.635, p=0.001). When looking at the correlation data, it appears as though there is one extreme point that may be skewing the results. This one extreme participant had the most exposure to animals.

—Considering the sample size for this preliminary data is small, it is expected that the correlation between total animal exposure within 24 hours and total number of observed morphogroups will increase in strength with a larger sample size.

September 2013

Summary of Research Proposal

This research examines bacteria isolated from human hands and identifies the differences between samples collected from people who come into contact with animals and those who do not.

About 102 participants will be randomly sampled using stratified sampling. These participants will then be broken into three groups of 34. The three groups will be: participants with no contact to animals, participants in contact with household animals and participants in contact with farm animals.

The farm animals include cattle and horses, birds (chickens and ducks), goats and sheep, and pigs. The household animals present in the study are primarily dogs and cats. The following variables will also be considered during the study: age, sex, occupation, knowledge of zoonotic pathogens, participant’s current health, and level of participant’s perceived cleanliness. The only pathogens that will be examined are bacterial pathogens.

For each sample taken from a participant, the quantity of bacterial growth and the identity of the bacteria will be analyzed. After the isolated bacteria is identified, the level of invasiveness or the bacteria’s ability to gain access, repress the host's defenses, replicate, and cause symptoms will be determined. This data will then be used to examine how the quantity of bacteria and the bacteria’s level of invasiveness differs between participants who are in contact with household animals or farm animals and participants who have no contact with animals.

It is expected that the participants who interact with animals, whether farm or household, will have a larger amount of bacteria isolated from their hands. It is also expected that the bacteria isolated from these participants will have higher amounts of pathogenic bacteria. Nearly two-thirds (58-61percent) of human diseases are caused by zoonotic pathogens, so it is understood that there is a higher probability that the participants that have contact with animals will have a higher degree of pathogenic bacteria.

The following bacteria are common among humans, farm animals and household animals and may appear in this study: Bacillus anthracis, Campylobacter fetus, Campylobacter jejuni, Chlamydia trachomatis, Chlamydophila pneumonia, Chlamydophila psittaci, Chlamydophila abortus, Enterococcus faecalis, Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumonia, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Salmonella enteritidis, Salmonella typhimurium, Serratia marcescens, Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus epidermidis, Streptococcus pneumonia, Streptococcus pyogenes, Streptococcus agalactiae, and Vibrio cholerae.

The implications of this research include but are not limited to having a better understanding of the interactions between animals and humans, and the role of zoonotic pathogens in relation to humans. Understanding this information is important because it may be helpful in developing contained, self-sustained environments. This research could be useful in constructing and planning bio-domes to keep the ecosystem and the human population healthier when dealing within close proximity to animals. Bacterial pathogens will always be a part of our lives, and understanding how pathogens interact with the world is incredibly important for the future.


This research project has been a huge learning experience and a large undertaking. I have been working on this project for nearly seven weeks and there has been a lot of work accomplished already.

Recently, I was approached by an incoming freshman, Bree Taylor, who was interested in gaining some lab experience. Taylor is an ambitious freshman who wanted to get a jump on her freshman year. I knew her father who was a teacher at the high school I attended. As of now Taylor comes into my lab and works with me as my lab assistant. She works about three times a week and has been very helpful to me.

Twenty-five participants have been sampled thus far. Original plates, taken from both the palm and the fingers of each participant, have been observed. The number of colonies was recorded for each plate during these observations.

In addition to the total number of the colonies on the plates, the differences between the colonies were recorded. These different colonies are referred to as morpho-groups and they represent colonies that have different characteristics. Some participants have one morpho-group, while others can have above five morpho-groups. It is expected that the morpho-groups will be different bacteria that can then be isolated into pure cultures and identified.

A sample of the different morpho-groups was selected and re-plated for a pure culture. Currently, I am working on identifying about 200 unkown bacteria. These bacteria will go through several tests that I will then use to identify them. If I can identify the bacteria, I will be able to determine the level of invasiveness of the bacteria found on the participants’ hands.

I am currently working on the first 25 participants and have not collected many more samples. I will begin collecting more samples soon. I am in the process of inputting the data that has been collected thus far. This data will begin to show if there are any significant results found from the samples collected in regards to the relationship between exposure to animals and bacterial growth on human hands. There has been a lot of progress on this project, but there is a lot of work left to complete. This will be a long journey, but I look forward to keeping everyone in the community informed on my progress.

Current Findings and What to Expect

I have not been able to analyze any of the data directly, but from my observations of the different samples it appears as though there are significant differences between people who work on farms and those who do not. I am unable to report the statistics of this, but when the pictures and other information are posted to this page, I believe it will become clear.

Thank you to everyone who has made this project possible. I will work as hard as possible to make all of the efforts a valuable contribution.