Next in our “People Behind the Science” series is Kyle Bibby from the University of Pittsburgh. In this interview he talks about his future work on premise plumbing and the hospital microbiome project.
Transcript of interview:
Question: You are a new Sloan grantee. Tell us a bit about your project.
Reply: Myself and my co-grantee, Dr. Janet Stout, are investigating the change in microbial ecology within a hospital hot water plumbing system, before and after the hospital introduced an on-site disinfection system. They introduced a monochloramine disinfection system which we know isn’t going to kill everything, it’s just going to change the ecology and we don’t know how yet. We have about forty sites within the hospital that are sampled for two months before and about four months after. We have all these samples stored and we’re just gearing up to sequence them.
Question: So you are looking at disinfection practices in hospitals. Do you have any preliminary data, and how far along are you in the project?
Reply: This project is actually being rolled into another concurrent project, which was focused specifically on the Legionella disinfection. So from that project, there is some data that shows that it looks like the disinfection was successful at knocking down total bacterial counts and a little bit of other data. But as far as the ecology portion, which is this study, we just got started.
Question: We have been hearing from a lot of different people that we really don’t know what the ecology of these species are. We know we can find species, but we have no idea how that relates to human health or cleanliness.
Reply: We are really just on the tip of the iceberg. I am really interested in investigating the ecology of premise plumbing systems; plumbing systems that are within our homes and buildings, as opposed to the water distribution systems that bring water to us. It is really important and really interesting from a health perspective and an ecology perspective.
Question: Are you collaborating with any other hospital projects like the Hospital Microbiome Project?
Response: Yes. I am a member of the Hospital Microbiome Consortium. I just started a faculty position so was a little bit late, but I am really looking forward to the results and hopeful that I will be a part of that conversation.
Question: What is one major challenge or big research question in the research area related to the built environment?
Response: When we are sampling in the built environment, there are so many variables that are changing in every single environment we sample. So, if we’re sampling a floor, there are all sorts of different dust on the floor and different flooring. Some people have pets, some people don’t. Some people keep the house warmer. If we’re talking about premise plumbing systems, there are different materials, different temperatures, and different water quality coming in to these. How do we generalize these conclusions we have from these specific cases to more broadly be able to apply them with all of these confounding variables and how do we tease out the fundamentals, as opposed to just observational changes in these specific instances?