Microbial sampling in building surveys: what and why are we sampling?

Following the last posts about sampling in buildings and other man-made environments, I would like to share the paper I will present at Healthy Buildings 2015 Europe. The paper mainly focuses on sampling advice for practitioners, but we have also tried to explain what the concept of «building microbiome» means to us. Although buildings are not living organisms, they can sustain a functional microbiome that consists of all microbial communities, either active or dormant, that can interact with each other, the building users, and the building environment. The presence of both natural and unexpected moisture in man-made environments promotes active microorganisms. Other microbes sharing the same environment, but being specific to other microbiomes, as for example those of humans, plants, pets, etc, die on dry building surfaces after several hours, days, or months (see this nice post at microBEnet), unless they produce resting spores. Their fate depends solely on mechanical forces as ventilation, gravity, condensation, etc, as the fate of any other inert particle of the same size. There is no ecology going on in non-viable microbes. A dead pathogen is not a pathogen any longer, even if the species potentially belongs in the building microbiome. In this connection, I look forward to the outcome from the «Live/dead workshop» at UC Davis in May. The use of DNA techniques alone to characterize the building microbiome on dry man-made surfaces may result in confusing data with knowledge, even with wisdom (thanks for a nice explanation of these terms, Christopher).

I will appreciate any comments and suggestions on the paper.

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Maria Nunez

Maria Nunez is a mycologist/taxonomist working with the ecology of moulds and wood-rotting fungi in the building environment. Learn to know the fungi and their environment in order to solve real problems.