Microbes: our bodies are made up of them, our environment is teeming with them, and when they get out of balance, things go bad quickly. And while most of us are aware of the impact our diet and antibiotic use has on the bacteria, fungi and viruses that surround us, it’s a pretty safe bet that most of us haven’t considered how design impacts these microbes. But new research from the University of Oregon suggests that design has a vital influence on the balance of microbes in any given space, and the balance can shift from room to room depending on the design. Given the fact that humans spend a vast majority of their lives indoors, it could mean big things for our health.
Jessica Green and her team at the University of Oregon took samples of different spaces and examined the microbe concentration. Their research revealed that, contrary to what you might think, the microbiome can change from room to room. For instance, classrooms contained lots of bacteria that is commonly found on human skin, like Staphylococcus. Offices, on the other hand, had a higher concentration of Methylobacterium, a bacteria commonly found in soil.
The shift in microbe balance isn’t just the result of the number or type of people using the room. Design choices from the floor plan to window placement, ventilation choices and connectedness between rooms was a huge factor in what type of microbes would thrive. Even seemingly insignificant choices, like how long and when to run air conditioning had an impact. While the research is still in the early phases, it raises interesting questions about how we influence the microbes around us, and how we can adjust our designs to encourage the healthiest microbiome possible.
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