A Musing On The Future of Managed Microbiology of Built Environments

Perhaps you’ve heard about Dr. Premsyl Bercik’s recent publication in Nature Communications about the link between the gut microbiome and mental disorders such as depression and anxiety disorder. In his study, he induced early life stress in conventional mice and in germ-free mice by separating new born pups from their mother for several hours a day from day 3 to 21 of their lives. The germ free mice did show the same depression and anxiety behaviors as the conventional mice did with this treatment, suggesting that the gut microbiome plays a roll in their abnormal behavior.
I bring this study up because it’s had to ignore the striking parallels between the microbiomes of humans and buildings in regards to ‘health’. Scientists have made numerous connections between “Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)” and the microbes that live inside our built environments. Buildings can undergo stress too, effected by building materials, occupant traffic, ventilation, humidity, temperature, pollutants, and so many other factors. Nearly every week a new study comes out liking the microbiome to these variables, but what do we do with this information?

The big question that comes up in the human health studies, such as the one I mentioned above, revolve around a developing probiotics to be used as a treatment for microbiome related behaviors. So logically, does this mean that there could potentially be probiotics for buildings — an alteration to the microbes the live inside our buildings to treat SBS? This may seem like a crazy idea at first, but we already do have naturally occurring probiotics. Just as humans can eat yogurt, buildings can get a healthy breeze from the outdoors that is chock-full of microbes. I have no idea how exactly building probiotics would be executed, but be prepared that someday it will probably be a norm.

One thought on “A Musing On The Future of Managed Microbiology of Built Environments

  1. For public buildings, you can’t treat everyone who comes in. Rather than treating the people with probiotics, it might help narrow down what about the building environment needs to be changed. It could be useful in finding a medical justification to force changes in the building environment.

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Katherine Dahlhausen

Katie Dahlhausen is a PhD student in Jonathan Eisen’s lab and is interested in the biogeography and mechanisms of antibiotic resistance. Find out more at her Twitter feed .