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Microbes Around Us

Microbes are everywhere, shaping the environment, even indoors, and a series of studies indicates that the design of those indoor spaces may affect what microorganisms are found there, Wired reports.

"Design choices at the level of a whole building make a really big impact on the types of invisible organisms that you see in a room," Jessica Green, a microbial ecologist at the University of Oregon, tells Wired.

She and her colleagues modified a Shop-Vac to collect dust samples from throughout a classroom and office building on the Oregon campus. They extracted DNA from those samples and sequenced the bacterial 16S rRNA genes contained therein. As they report in PLOS One, they found that while there appeared to be a core microbiome shared by the various rooms in the building, the different rooms varied in their bacterial makeup. For instance, Wired notes that classrooms, which are visiting by many students throughout the day, had a preponderance of skin-associated microbes.

In another study of Lillis Hall published in Indoor Air, Green and colleagues examine how ventilation source — mechanical or natural — influences bacterial populations. They report that rooms with natural ventilation had microbial patterns similar to outside air as compared to those ventilated with a mechanical system, especially if that system is switched off at night as a cost-savings tool.

Wired adds that Green and her colleagues have another study set to be released soon that that examines which microbes colonize certain surfaces.

"The interactions between building design, microbial diversity, and health might be stronger in other types of buildings — such as hospitals," Wired says, adding that Green is also part of a group that is studying microbial community development in two newly built hospitals.