The airborne metagenome in an indoor urban environment

PLoS One. 2008 Apr 2;3(4):e1862. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0001862.


The indoor atmosphere is an ecological unit that impacts on public health. To investigate the composition of organisms in this space, we applied culture-independent approaches to microbes harvested from the air of two densely populated urban buildings, from which we analyzed 80 megabases genomic DNA sequence and 6000 16S rDNA clones. The air microbiota is primarily bacteria, including potential opportunistic pathogens commonly isolated from human-inhabited environments such as hospitals, but none of the data contain matches to virulent pathogens or bioterror agents. Comparison of air samples with each other and nearby environments suggested that the indoor air microbes are not random transients from surrounding outdoor environments, but rather originate from indoor niches. Sequence annotation by gene function revealed specific adaptive capabilities enriched in the air environment, including genes potentially involved in resistance to desiccation and oxidative damage. This baseline index of air microbiota will be valuable for improving designs of surveillance for natural or man-made release of virulent pathogens.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Air Microbiology
  • Air Pollutants
  • Air Pollution, Indoor
  • Air*
  • Algorithms
  • Contig Mapping
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Genome
  • Genome, Bacterial
  • Humans
  • Open Reading Frames
  • Particulate Matter
  • Phylogeny
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Ventilation


  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter