Extreme environments at home

Just a quick post on a new paper posted last week at PeerJ. As in the previous post, this is a PeerJ Preprint, meaning it is not peer-reviewed yet.

Microbial diversity of extreme habitats in human homes
Amy M. Savage​, Justin Hills, Katherine Driscoll, Daniel J Fergus, Amy M Grunden, Robert R Dunn
PeerJ Preprints 4:e1874v1

Background: High throughput sequencing techniques have opened up the world of microbial diversity to scientists, and a flurry of studies in the most remote and extreme habitats on earth have begun to elucidate the key roles of microbes in ecosystems with extreme conditions. These same environmental extremes can also be found closer to humans; in fact, they can be found in our homes. Here, we used high throughput sequencing techniques to assess microbial diversity in the extreme environments inside human homes (e.g. dishwashers, hot water heaters, washing machine bleach reservoirs, etc.). We focused on habitats in the home with extreme temperature, pH and chemical environmental conditions.

Results: We found that although these habitats supported a lower diversity of microbes than less extreme habitats in the home, there were still diverse microbial assemblages in extreme home environments. Habitats with extreme temperatures alone appeared to be able to support a greater diversity of microbes than habitats with extreme pH or extreme chemical environments alone. Microbial diversity was lowest when habitats had both extreme temperature and one of these other extremes. This interactive effect was strongest when habitats had both extreme temperatures and extreme pH. Under these conditions, taxa with known associations with extreme conditions dominated.

Conclusions: Our findings highlight the importance of examining interactive effects of multiple environmental extremes on microbial communities. Inasmuch as taxa from extreme environments can be both pathogens and industrially useful, our findings also suggest future work to understand both the threats and opportunities posed by the life in these habitats.


Leave a Reply

Elisabeth Bik

After receiving my PhD at Utrecht University in The Netherlands, I worked at the Dutch National Institute for Health and the St. Antonius Hospital in Nieuwegein. In 2001, I joined the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford, where I have worked on the characterization of the human microbiome in thousands of oral, gastric, and intestinal samples. I currently study the microbiome of marine mammals. When I am not in the lab, I can be found working on my blog Microbiome Digest , an almost daily compilation of scientific papers in the rapidly growing microbiome field, or on Twitter at @MicrobiomDigest.