Sloan funds MoBE project at US Air Force Academy

The Alfred P. Sloan foundation recently announced the funding of a microbiome of the built environment study (MoBE) titled “Longitudinal assessment of the influence of lifestyle homogenization on the MoBE in a cohort of United States Air Force Cadets”. This research program is a collaborative effort between Dr. Christopher Lowry (University of Colorado at Boulder), LtCol Andrew Hoisington (United States Air Force Academy), Dr. Lisa Brenner (Department of Veteran Affairs and University of Colorado at Denver), Dr. Jack Gilbert (University of Chicago), and Dr. Kerry Kinney (University of Texas at Austin). The diverse group of collaborators on this project include building engineers, microbiologists, physiologists, and clinical/research psychologists.  In addition to training graduate students at all of the participating universities, this study will train over 10 undergraduate cadet researchers on the MoBE.  This study is the most comprehensive MoBE and personal microbiome study ever conducted in a Department of Defense setting.

USAFA Cadet Area

Figure 1 — USAFA Cadet Area

This study will recruit 48 United States Air Force (USAFA) cadets to provide samples, and help characterize their built environments. Microbial characterization of the skin and stool of occupants, as well as indoor surfaces and outdoor sources will be performed over 9 weeks, using 16S rRNA and ITS amplicon sequencing, supported with qPCR and microscopic quantification. Cohorts will be separated into: 1) cohabitating roommates; 2) cadets who live in the same squadron; 3) cadets who live in adjacent squadrons; 4) cadets who live in distant squadrons (including one in a different building). Using sensors, we will characterize temperature, humidity, and occupancy dynamics in and between dorm rooms. We will also utilize surveys for occupancy, alteration in participant health, and cortisol measures to detect changes in psychological stress. Cadets predominately share a standardized diet, lifestyle, and age which will maximize the ability to detect confounding factors that impact host-derived microbial colonization of the BE.

This study will explicitly determine the degree to which occupant location and interaction influences the MoBE. Furthermore, this study will be used for retrospective interpretation of existing studies, and will improve design of future epidemiological and disease ecology investigations. Importantly, the military is interested in how lifestyle homogenization influences cadet and warfighter physical and mental health. By exploring the microbial cloud of each cohort, we can identify actionable lifestyle management factors to influence population scale characteristics.

Additionally, funding will facilitate a 2-day symposium to be held at USAFA, which symposium will bring together key researchers in the indoor microbiome field along with mental health researchers, as well as DoD researchers at each of the military academies, AF Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), Navy Office of Research, Army Research Lab, and DARPA. The theme of the symposium will be how current and future research directions in the human and BE microbiomes can benefit the DoD.

Sampling begins 1 Aug and will be completed by early Jan. The 4000 microbiome samples will be analyzed in the spring with the goal that early results will be presented at the 2017 Sloan Microbiome Symposium.  We would like to thank Dr. Paula Olsiewski and the Alfred P. Sloan foundation for their funding and support.

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