Airborne bacterial communities in residences: similarities and differences with fungi

PLoS One. 2014 Mar 6;9(3):e91283. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0091283. eCollection 2014.


Genetic analysis of indoor air has uncovered a rich microbial presence, but rarely have both the bacterial and fungal components been examined in the same samples. Here we present a study that examined the bacterial component of passively settled microbes from both indoor and outdoor air over a discrete time period and for which the fungal component has already been reported. Dust was allowed to passively settle in five common locations around a home - living room, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and balcony - at different dwellings within a university-housing complex for a one-month period at two time points, once in summer and again in winter. We amplified the bacterial 16S rRNA gene in these samples and analyzed them with high-throughput sequencing. Like fungal OTU-richness, bacterial OTU-richness was higher outdoors then indoors and was invariant across different indoor room types. While fungal composition was structured largely by season and residential unit, bacterial composition varied by residential unit and room type. Bacteria from putative outdoor sources, such as Sphingomonas and Deinococcus, comprised a large percentage of the balcony samples, while human-associated taxa comprised a large percentage of the indoor samples. Abundant outdoor bacterial taxa were also observed indoors, but the reverse was not true; this is unlike fungi, in which the taxa abundant indoors were also well-represented outdoors. Moreover, there was a partial association of bacterial composition and geographic distance, such that samples separated by even a few hundred meters tended have greater compositional differences than samples closer together in space, a pattern also observed for fungi. These data show that while the outdoor source for indoor bacteria and fungi varies in both space and time, humans provide a strong and homogenizing effect on indoor bacterial bioaerosols, a pattern not observed in fungi.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Microbiology*
  • Bacteria / classification*
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification*
  • Biodiversity
  • Biomass
  • Fungi / classification*
  • Fungi / genetics
  • Fungi / isolation & purification*
  • Housing*
  • Humans

Grant support

This work was funded with a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (, grant number 2010-10-03. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.