A California man melds his professional studies with his lifelong pastime to launch the Surfer Biome Project - a program which examines the microbiomes of surfers worldwide. Bob Mezan reports.
Cliff Kapono is not your average graduate student. In addition to his doctoral studies in chemistry at the University of California San Diego, he's also a lifelong surfer. Now he's combining his love of science and surfing for a new study, the Surfer Biome Project. Kapono spent nine months traveling the world, taking hundreds of chemical samples from surfers in an effort to study their microbiomes - the various colonies of microbes and organisms that exist on their bodies. He hopes the study will reveal what effect spending vast amounts of time in the ocean has on the human microbiome. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CLIFF KAPONO SAYING: "We believe that it's important to be able to identify not just differences between a surfer and non-surfer, but also characterize if there's differences between surfaces from different geographic regions. Because if there are similarities between surfers from different parts of the world with different cultures and different races, then we begin to ask the question: is there something that's linking these surfers because of their lifestyle or because of their constant immersion in the sea?" In the lab, Kapono uses gene sequencing to analyze bacteria and mass spectrometry to analyze molecules. His research will become part of the American Gut Project - a vast research program studying humans' microbiomes. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CLIFF KAPONO SAYING: "Now that we're aware that the microbiome and the chemicals found within our body and on our body are very integral to our overall health, I think it's opening minds to the technology that we can use for many other aspects. It's not just about medicine. It's not just about health. We can use this for environmentalism. We can use this for forensics. This is a really hot topic that can be applied to many different facets of research." Kapono's study is already garnering worldwide attention, even though he's yet to reveal his findings. He hopes to publish those later this year.