Impact of environmental microbiota on human microbiota of workers in academic mouse research facilities: An observational study

PLoS One. 2017 Jul 13;12(7):e0180969. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0180969. eCollection 2017.


Objectives: To characterize the microbial environment of workers in academic mouse research facilities using endotoxin, 16S qPCR, and 16S amplicon sequencing. To determine whether the work microbiome contributes to the human microbiome of workers.

Methods: We performed area air sampling from the animal rooms, dirty, middle, and setup cage wash locations in four academic mouse research facilities. 10 workers in the dirty cage wash area underwent personal air sampling as well as repeated collection of nasal, oral, and skin samples before and after the work shift. Environmental samples underwent measurement of endotoxin, mouse allergen, bacteria copy number via 16S qPCR, and microbial identification via 16S rDNA sequencing. 16S rDNA sequencing was also performed on human samples before and after the work shift. SourceTracker was used to identify the contribution of the work microbiome to the human microbiome.

Results: Median endotoxin levels ranged from undetectable to 1.0 EU/m3. Significant differences in mouse allergen levels, bacterial copy number, microbial richness, and microbial community structure were identified between animal, dirty, middle, and setup cage wash locations. Endotoxin levels had only a moderate correlation with microbial composition. Location within a facility was a stronger predictor of microbial community composition (R2 = 0.41, p = 0.002) than facility. The contribution of the work microbiome to the pre-shift human microbiome of workers was estimated to be 0.1 ± 0.1% for the oral microbiome; 3.1 ± 1.9% for the nasal microbiome; and 3.0 ± 1.5% for the skin microbiome.

Conclusions: The microbial environment of academic animal care facilities varies significantly by location rather than facility. Endotoxin is not a proxy for assessment of environmental microbial exposures using 16S qPCR or 16S rDNA sequencing. The work microbiome contributes to the composition of the nasal and skin microbiome of workers; the clinical implications of this observation should be further studied.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / analysis
  • Animal Technicians
  • Animals
  • Bacteria / classification*
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Endotoxins / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Medical Laboratory Personnel
  • Mice
  • Microbiota*
  • Mouth / microbiology
  • Nose / microbiology
  • Occupational Exposure / classification*
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics*
  • Skin / microbiology


  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Endotoxins
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S