Walls talk: Microbial biogeography of homes spanning urbanization

Sci Adv. 2016 Feb 12;2(2):e1501061. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1501061. eCollection 2016 Feb.


Westernization has propelled changes in urbanization and architecture, altering our exposure to the outdoor environment from that experienced during most of human evolution. These changes might affect the developmental exposure of infants to bacteria, immune development, and human microbiome diversity. Contemporary urban humans spend most of their time indoors, and little is known about the microbes associated with different designs of the built environment and their interaction with the human immune system. This study addresses the associations between architectural design and the microbial biogeography of households across a gradient of urbanization in South America. Urbanization was associated with households' increased isolation from outdoor environments, with additional indoor space isolation by walls. Microbes from house walls and floors segregate by location, and urban indoor walls contain human bacterial markers of space use. Urbanized spaces uniquely increase the content of human-associated microbes-which could increase transmission of potential pathogens-and decrease exposure to the environmental microbes with which humans have coevolved.

Keywords: Built environment; microbes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Environmental Microbiology*
  • Housing
  • Humans
  • Microbiota*
  • Phylogeography
  • South America
  • Urbanization*