Mass Spectrometry-Based Visualization of Molecules Associated with Human Habitats

Anal Chem. 2016 Nov 15;88(22):10775-10784. doi: 10.1021/acs.analchem.6b03456. Epub 2016 Oct 24.


The cars we drive, the homes we live in, the restaurants we visit, and the laboratories and offices we work in are all a part of the modern human habitat. Remarkably, little is known about the diversity of chemicals present in these environments and to what degree molecules from our bodies influence the built environment that surrounds us and vice versa. We therefore set out to visualize the chemical diversity of five built human habitats together with their occupants, to provide a snapshot of the various molecules to which humans are exposed on a daily basis. The molecular inventory was obtained through untargeted liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) analysis of samples from each human habitat and from the people that occupy those habitats. Mapping MS-derived data onto 3D models of the environments showed that frequently touched surfaces, such as handles (e.g., door, bicycle), resemble the molecular fingerprint of the human skin more closely than other surfaces that are less frequently in direct contact with humans (e.g., wall, bicycle frame). Approximately 50% of the MS/MS spectra detected were shared between people and the environment. Personal care products, plasticizers, cleaning supplies, food, food additives, and even medications that were found to be a part of the human habitat. The annotations indicate that significant transfer of chemicals takes place between us and our built environment. The workflows applied here will lay the foundation for future studies of molecular distributions in medical, forensic, architectural, space exploration, and environmental applications.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Ecosystem*
  • Humans
  • Ions / analysis
  • Mass Spectrometry*
  • Organic Chemicals / analysis*
  • Organic Chemicals / chemistry*
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry


  • Ions
  • Organic Chemicals