Microbial Communities: Built Environment Technical Summary

Technical Summary  

The microbiome of the built environment has implications for human health. Understanding what influences the presence, spread and colonization of microbes in the built environment is necessary for preventing disease stemming from the microbial population in homes, workplaces, and hospitals. Furthermore, the risk of hospital-acquired infections is a growing concern as effective treatments for antibiotic-resistant bacteria increases. In order to identify the risk and spread of infection in a hospital preliminary research about the hospital microbiome is required. Lax et al. conducted a longitudinal study in a newly- opened hospital. They sampled the hospital surfaces, patients and staff. Abiotic factors, such as light, temperature and humidity, were also tracked for potential influence on bacterial transmission.  Microbial communities from pre-opening and post- opening were highly distinct suggesting that human presence was highly influential of the built environment microbiome. When a patient was admitted, their skin microbiome was transferred to the surfaces in their room. Metagenomic characterization showed that antimicrobial resistance genes were more likely to be found on surfaces than skin. In this study, there were no correlations found between the abiotic factors measured and the transmission of microbes. Researchers correlated chemotherapy treatment in patients with a lower alpha diversity in the patient’s nose, hand, and bedrail. The conclusions from this study showed that patient skin is clearly a vector for the hospital microbiome.


S. Lax, et al., Bacterial colonization and succession in a newly opened hospital. Sci. Transl. Med. 9, eaah6500, (2017), https://dx.doi.org/10.1126/scitranslmed.aah6500.

1 Comment for “Microbial Communities: Built Environment Technical Summary”



Courtney, one image that came to mind when I was reading both summaries was “washing hands” in institutional places, and how much I associate that with doing my part in stopping the spread of disease. I reflected if this study changed my perspective a bit on this, since you share the finding that surfaces carry more of a risk. …I appreciated the “bed rail” concrete imagery in your writing and the contrast where in the technical summary. I found the contrast to be sharp when in the technical summary you include that the researchers “sample” (as a verb!) surfaces, patients, and staff. For a lot of writing situations, it would be rare to equate non-humans with humans, but for the environmental micro-biologist these are great contrasting data sources to collect. The patient relates differently than the staff given the research question and the surface area is another distinct place in the built environment to study.

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