Bacterial viability in the built environment of the home

Joy Xie, Ellen M. Acosta, Zemer Gitai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The built environment (BE) consists of human-made structures and, much like living organisms, is colonized by bacteria that make up the BE microbiome. The BE microbiome can potentially affect human health because of the constant proximity of these bacteria to humans. This has led to increasing public concern of whether the bacteria in the BE are harmful. Previous studies have used approaches based on DNA sequencing to assess the composition of the BE microbiome. However, the extent to which the bacterial DNA in the BE represents viable bacterial cells that could infect human hosts remains unknown. To address this open question we used both culture-based and culture-independent molecular methods to profile bacterial viability of the microbiomes from several BE sites. As part of an undergraduate-led project, we found that the vast majority of the bacterial DNA from the BE is not associated with viable bacteria, suggesting that most bacteria in the BE are dead. To begin to understand the determinants of bacterial viability in the BE we used mock bacterial communities to investigate the effects of temperature, relative humidity, and human interaction on bacterial viability. We found that relative humidity, temperature, and surface material did not have statistically significant effects on BE microbiome viability, but environmental exposure decreased bacterial viability. These results update our conception of the BE microbiome and begin to define the factors that affect BE microbiome viability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0288092
JournalPloS one
Issue number11 November
StatePublished - Nov 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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