Cell phone germs as art: Gross or gorgeous?

Molecular biology students test their phones for bugs -- and find lots of them. Some even look like flowers and distant galaxies.

Ick? Actually, this cell phone appears to be one of the cleaner of the bunch. Simon Park/University of Surrey

It's not news that cell phones harbor bacteria , but there's a difference between knowing that about your device and seeing the germs up close in all their furry, florid glory.

Molecular biology undergraduates at the U.K.'s University of Surrey recently got a stark view of just how much bacteria crawls on their phones when instructor Simon Park had them imprint their devices onto petri dishes filled with a bacteriological growth medium and wait a few days to see what bloomed.

Spoiler alert: The experiment turned up lots of bugs, though Park says most of the bacteria were harmless varieties normally found on the skin. Disease-carrying bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus were also found, however.

"The ecological niche on the body for Staphylococcus aureus is the nostrils, so a furtive pick of the nose, and quick text after, and you end up with this pathogen on your smartphone," Park told Wired.co.uk.

Park -- who dabbles in all sorts of microphotography of natural phenomena -- describes himself as a "poet scientist who works with living matter in order to explore the inherent creativity of the natural world and to reveal its subtle, and usually hidden, narratives."

Indeed, it's as if each bacteria-covered cell phone tells its own story. Click through the gallery below to see what tales they have to tell.

About the author

Leslie Katz, Crave's senior editor, heads up a team that covers the most crushworthy (and wackiest) tech, science, and culture around. As a co-host of the now-retired CNET News Daily Podcast, she was sometimes known to channel Terry Gross and still uses her trained "podcast voice" to bully the speech recognition software on automated customer service lines. E-mail Leslie.


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