Office space bacterial abundance and diversity in three metropolitan areas

PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e37849. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037849. Epub 2012 May 30.


People in developed countries spend approximately 90% of their lives indoors, yet we know little about the source and diversity of microbes in built environments. In this study, we combined culture-based cell counting and multiplexed pyrosequencing of environmental ribosomal RNA (rRNA) gene sequences to investigate office space bacterial diversity in three metropolitan areas. Five surfaces common to all offices were sampled using sterile double-tipped swabs, one tip for culturing and one for DNA extraction, in 30 different offices per city (90 offices, 450 total samples). 16S rRNA gene sequences were PCR amplified using bar-coded "universal" bacterial primers from 54 of the surfaces (18 per city) and pooled for pyrosequencing. A three-factorial Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) found significant differences in viable bacterial abundance between offices inhabited by men or women, among the various surface types, and among cities. Multiplex pyrosequencing identified more than 500 bacterial genera from 20 different bacterial divisions. The most abundant of these genera tended to be common inhabitants of human skin, nasal, oral or intestinal cavities. Other commonly occurring genera appeared to have environmental origins (e.g., soils). There were no significant differences in the bacterial diversity between offices inhabited by men or women or among surfaces, but the bacterial community diversity of the Tucson samples was clearly distinguishable from that of New York and San Francisco, which were indistinguishable. Overall, our comprehensive molecular analysis of office building microbial diversity shows the potential of these methods for studying patterns and origins of indoor bacterial contamination. "[H]umans move through a sea of microbial life that is seldom perceived except in the context of potential disease and decay." - Feazel et al. (2009).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Bacteria / classification*
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Biodiversity*
  • Cities*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • RNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Workplace


  • RNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S