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Connectedness, human use of buildings shape indoor bacterial communities

Genetic sequencing exposes diversity of microbial biodiversity in buildings


The location, connectedness, and human use patterns in a building may influence the types of bacteria they house, according to a study published in PLOS ONE on January 29, 2014 by Steven Kembel from the University of Québec in Montréal, Canada and colleagues.

Humans spend a majority of their time in buildings, which have their own ecosystems of microorganisms. Microbes living in and on buildings or people may play a critical role in human health and wellbeing. To understand how design choices and human use influence the bacteria in the building, researchers collected microbiological, architectural, and environmental data in 155 rooms in a 4- story multiuse classroom and office building on the University of Oregon campus. They used filtered vacuum cleaners to collect dust in offices, classrooms, hallways, bathrooms, and storage closets and genetically sequenced the bacteria.

Dust samples revealed over 30,000 different types of bacteria. Architectural design characteristics related to space type, building arrangement, human use and movement, and ventilation source influenced on bacterial community structure. Spaces containing a large number of people or with people passing through to other spaces contained a distinct set of bacterial taxa when compared to spaces lacking these characteristics. Restrooms contained bacterial communities highly distinct from all other rooms, including organisms associated with the human gut: lactobacillus, staphylococcus and clostridium. Within similar offices, the source of air ventilation, mechanical versus window, had the greatest effect on bacterial community structure.

More research on the human health implications of these bacteria is needed, but understanding the factors contributing to indoor microbiology may open the door to buildings designed to influence different microbial communities.

"We found that what you do in a room, how many different people there are in a room, and how well connected that room is all influenced the types of bacteria you find indoors," said James Meadow a postdoctoral research associate in the BioBE center.


Citation: Kembel SW, Meadow JF, O'Connor TK, Mhuireach G, Northcutt D, et al. (2014) Architectural Design Drives the Biogeography of Indoor Bacterial Communities. PLoS ONE 9(1): e87093. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0087093

Financial Disclosure: This research was funded by a grant to the Biology and the Built Environment Center from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Microbiology for the Built Environment Program. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interest Statement: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


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