The potential importance of the built-environment microbiome and its impact on human health

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2024 May 14;121(20):e2313971121. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2313971121. Epub 2024 Apr 25.


There is increasing evidence that interactions between microbes and their hosts not only play a role in determining health and disease but also in emotions, thought, and behavior. Built environments greatly influence microbiome exposures because of their built-in highly specific microbiomes coproduced with myriad metaorganisms including humans, pets, plants, rodents, and insects. Seemingly static built structures host complex ecologies of microorganisms that are only starting to be mapped. These microbial ecologies of built environments are directly and interdependently affected by social, spatial, and technological norms. Advances in technology have made these organisms visible and forced the scientific community and architects to rethink gene-environment and microbe interactions respectively. Thus, built environment design must consider the microbiome, and research involving host-microbiome interaction must consider the built-environment. This paradigm shift becomes increasingly important as evidence grows that contemporary built environments are steadily reducing the microbial diversity essential for human health, well-being, and resilience while accelerating the symptoms of human chronic diseases including environmental allergies, and other more life-altering diseases. New models of design are required to balance maximizing exposure to microbial diversity while minimizing exposure to human-associated diseases. Sustained trans-disciplinary research across time (evolutionary, historical, and generational) and space (cultural and geographical) is needed to develop experimental design protocols that address multigenerational multispecies health and health equity in built environments.

Keywords: Anthropocene; architectural design; evolution; metaorganism; microbiome.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Built Environment*
  • Humans
  • Microbiota* / physiology