Incredible Map Visualizes The Microbial Connections Between Animals

Maya Wardeh

What better way to express the harmony between all animals on Earth by showing all the stomach bugs, viruses, and parasites we share?

The graphic below was created using information from a study by biologists at the University of Liverpool and Aberystwyth University, recently published in Scientific Data, that looked at host-pathogen relationships and their worldwide distribution. The results were then visualized by study author Maya Wardeh, currently involved in postdoctoral research at the University of Liverpool's Institute of Infection and Global Health. Ultimately, data such as this could be used to help tackle the global burden of infectious diseases, which the researchers estimate were responsible for 16 percent of all deaths in the world last year. 

Each dot represents a different species. The larger the dot, the more types of pathogens each species interact with. The closer the dots, the more microbes the species have in common.

The pathogens – basically, organisms that can cause disease – in the graphic include bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasitic worms and single-celled organisms called protozoa. The study suggests that there are around 1,450 different known pathogens of humans. These are different to the trillions of microbes we share our body with, which usually live in peace with us and are actually vital to our survival. In fact, our body’s own cells are outnumbered ten to one by bacterial cells alone, although some can cause disease if given the opportunity.

As you can see from the image, humans share a huge amount of lurgies with animals we have domesticated and come into contact with most, such as dogs and cattle. Interestingly, it also shows we share more pathogens with fish and birds than our primate cousins – most likely because they form a large part of our diet.

Image credit: Maya Wardeh


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