What Kind of Microbes Live in Your House?

January 29, 2014 at 5:28 PM 1 comment

I think this whole new area of study which is revealing how important microbes are to our health (or not) is just fascinating.

Bacteria via DecodedScience.com

(Image via DecodedScience.com)

The human microbiome has been in the news for several years now, as researchers have begun to unravel the importance of microbes living in and on our bodies. These bacteria and other microbial critters influence human health, and the composition and combination of various species have been linked to everything from eczema to obesity.

But what about the microbes that live in our buildings—how do these species impact our health? And can we change the design of a building to make its microbial ecosystem healthier?


To find out, Green and her team, which included lead authors Steven Kembel, a former postdoctoral research now at the University of Quebec, and James Meadow, a current postdoc, surveyed bacteria living in Lillis Hall, a multi-purpose building on the University of Oregon campus.

The team worked closely with the building’s designers to understand the function of various rooms, including the connectivity (number of doors), the purpose and the number of occupants (offices with low occupancy and low diversity, for example, or classrooms with high occupancy and high turnover), the air circulation (open windows versus mechanical ventilation), and so on. They used vacuums to collect dust from 155 unique spaces in the building and extracted and sequenced the DNA of the bacteria inside the dust samples.


The researchers found 32,964 different major groups of bacteria in the building, which made up unique ecosystems depending on the type of room in which they were found. Bathrooms, for example, had very little bacterial diversity, possibly because they typically only have one door. By comparison, hallways and other areas with many entrances and exists, as well as many different people walking through during the day, had a much higher diversity.

Unsurprisingly, offices had lower diversity than classrooms, and offices next door to one another had similar profiles. And ventilation made a big difference: offices with windows had entirely different bacterial composition compared to those with mechanical ventilation.


The next step is to understand how humans contribute to this indoor microbiome, as well as how different ecosystems may influence human health.

Far in the future, Green envisions an indoor microbiome certification, which would give a grade on a building’s microbial health somewhat like the current LEED system that awards buildings for sustainability and energy efficiency. She also thinks future homeowners may be checking microbial health of a potential real estate purchase, just as people today may look up pollution levels and other environmental factors.



Entry filed under: Animals (Other Than Us).

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Tim Truett  |  January 30, 2014 at 3:35 AM

    Fascinating! Thanks.

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