In the News

Your Microbiome Extends in a Microbial Cloud Around You, Like an Aura

Understanding the interplay between the microbial cloud and environment could form the basis for attempts to better engineer indoor spaces to prevent the transmission of diseases. “We could potentially design our buildings around that. If we know there’s an airborne disease risk, maybe we could develop ventilation accordingly,” says James Meadow. Places like hospitals or offices could stand to benefit, for example.
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How Architecture Could Shape Your Microbiome

Biologists and architects both look at the world in terms of networks: How do people move through and interact with a building? How do microbes move and interact in a space? “What our study does is makes it clear that we can design buildings to influence the types of bacteria,” we come into contact with, Meadow says. “Instead of just sterilizing the environment, we’ll actually manage our buildings in a more sensible way.”
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Architecture May Influence Which Microbes Surround You

We will always be outnumbered, but we may have a say in which microbes we’re surrounded by, according to a new study that’s one of the first to investigate how building design influences the microbial diversity of indoor spaces. “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,” said microbial ecologist Jessica Green, an author of the new study. The work is part of an emerging body research suggesting that design decisions — from the architect’s blueprint to the choice of ventilation system to the materials picked by the interior designer — help shape the microbes in our midst.
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Your Microbe Aura Could Be as Distinctive as Your Fingerprint

A new study looks at the unique collection of bacteria that hangs in the air around each of our bodies.

“As soon as there’s a person in the room, you start to find things like staphylococcus or streptococcus, things that we all have on us,” said James Meadow, the paper’s lead author and a scientist at Phylagen.
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Creating a Healthier, More Sustainable World

The What’s Next Health series features leading thinkers and visionaries who see issues a little differently. Jessica Green of Phylagen talks about microbiomes and how the built environment can help create a healthier world.
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Washington Post highlights PeerJ Publication

Do you ever feel like you’re all alone in the world? Well, don’t. At every moment of your life,you’re surrounded by a cloud of bacteria. These microbial companions are so unique to you that the cloud — which you leave traces of everywhere you go — might actually be as identifiable as a fingerprint.

In a study published Tuesday in PeerJ, researchers report that the unique signatures of bacteria a person left in the air can be used to identify them in just four hours of analysis.

The researchers placed subjects in sanitized chambers for 90 minutes, then tested the “cloud” of microbes they’d left behind in the air. Previous research has shown that humans change the microbial balance of their environments quite quickly. Your house will have a bacterial signature that fits your family and pets, but it will change as soon as you hire a dog sitter and leave for vacation. Meanwhile, your hotel room — full of strange bacteria — will adapt to your family’s microbiome within hours.
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Humans differ in their personal microbial cloud

Dispersal of microbes between humans and the built environment can occur through direct contact with surfaces or through airborne release; the latter mechanism remains poorly understood. Humans emit upwards of 106 biological particles per hour, and have long been known to transmit pathogens to other individuals and to indoor surfaces. However it has not previously been demonstrated that humans emit a detectible microbial cloud into surrounding indoor air, nor whether such clouds are sufficiently differentiated to allow the identification of individual occupants.

We used high-throughput sequencing of 16S rRNA genes to characterize the airborne bacterial contribution of a single person sitting in a sanitized custom experimental climate chamber. We compared that to air sampled in an adjacent, identical, unoccupied chamber, as well as to supply and exhaust air sources. Additionally, we assessed microbial communities in settled particles surrounding each occupant, to investigate the potential long-term fate of airborne microbial emissions.

Most occupants could be clearly detected by their airborne bacterial emissions, as well as their contribution to settled particles, within 1.5–4 h. Bacterial clouds from the occupants were statistically distinct, allowing the identification of some individual occupants. Our results confirm that an occupied space is microbially distinct from an unoccupied one, and demonstrate for the first time that individuals release their own personalized microbial cloud.
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