A new method that uses smartphone-derived images can identify potentially harmful bacteria on the skin and in the mouth, research shows.

The approach can visually identify microbes on skin contributing to acne and slow wound healing, as well as bacteria in the oral cavity that can cause gingivitis and dental plaques.

Researchers combined a smartphone-case modification with image-processing methods to illuminate bacteria on images taken by a conventional smartphone camera. This approach yielded a relatively low-cost and quick method that could be used at home.

“Bacteria on skin and in our mouths can have wide impacts on our health—from causing tooth to decay to slowing down wound healing,” says Ruikang Wang, a professor of bioengineering and of ophthalmology at the University of Washington. “Since smartphones are so widely used, we wanted to develop a cost-effective, easy tool that people could use to learn about bacteria on skin and in the oral cavity.”

Bacteria aren’t easy to see using conventional smartphone images. Smartphone cameras are “RGB cameras,” says Wang. They essentially funnel all the different wavelengths of light in the visual spectrum into three different colors—red, green, and blue. Every pixel in a smartphone-generated image is a combination of those colors. But bacteria emit many colors beyond red, green, and blue, which a typical smartphone camera misses.

Wang’s team augmented the smartphone camera’s capabilities by attaching a small 3D-printed ring containing 10 LED black lights around a smartphone case’s camera opening. The researchers used the LED-augmented smartphone to take images of the oral cavity and skin on the face of two research subjects.

Read the full article about acne and mouth bacteria by James Urton at Futurity.