A woman goes into a public restroom and holds an open petri dish in an enclosed hand dryer for three minutes. She takes a picture of the petri dish and posts it publicly on Facebook.

And her post becomes just the latest thing to “break the internet.”

hand dryer petri dish Facebook post

Sure, some of those growths might be “pathogenic fungi and bacteria.” Or they might not be. But as many a commenter has since pointed out, they’re exactly what you would expect by just opening a petri dish anywhere. That’s what they’re made for: growing stuff, including microbes, good and bad alike.

And microbes are everywhere. One paper in the Journal of Virology estimated that there can be up to 40 million viruses and 11 million bacteria in every cubic foot of air. The researchers calculated that “we breathe in a few hundred thousand viruses every minute.”

What’s more, your very own body contains more microbes than human cells. Many are necessary to support good health. Recent research suggests that, in fact, a lack of microbial diversity may raise the risk of health problems, oral and systemic alike.

Other research has shown that, in the words of one news release, we each “emit” our “own personal microbial cloud.”

Consider what that might grow on a petri dish!

Yet the woman who posted the pic seems convinced that hand dryers are the problem. As MSN reported,

[she] says her experiment has changed the way she sanitizes after using public bathrooms.

“From now on I just wash and scrub, and dry on my clothes or shake and air dry OUTSIDE of the restroom.”

She has also since disclosed that she works for a company that develops hygiene products, which may explain a little or a lot of her original post. And of course good hygiene matters.

Yet even with good hygiene, microbes are everywhere. Whether the ones we’re exposed to will help or harm depends, as ever, on the state of the individual’s biological terrain. Bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbial life can only thrive if given the right environment in which to thrive – just as tomatoes, say, will only thrive when grown in the right soil under the right conditions.

The terrain is everything.

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