Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Home sweet microbe: Dust in your house can predict geographic region, gender of occupants


The humble dust collecting in the average American household harbors a teeming menagerie of bacteria and fungi, and as researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder and North Carolina State University have discovered, it may be able to predict not only the geographic region of a given home, but the gender ratio of the occupants and the presence of a pet as well.

The new findings, which were published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, highlight the impressive amount of microbial diversity in the average household and the degree to which these organisms can tell a story about the homes they inhabit.

This image shows household dust under a microscope.

Credit: NIAID

"Every day, we're surrounded by a vast array of organisms in our homes, most of which we can't see," said Noah Fierer, an Associate Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at CU-Boulder and a co-author of the study. "We live in a microbial zoo, and this study was an attempt to catalog that diversity."

The study examined roughly 1,200 homes across the continental U.S. Volunteers participating in the Wild Life of Our Homes citizen science project helped researchers collect indoor and outdoor dust samples at each site.

... more about:
»Biology »Dust »NCSU »ecology »fungi »microbe

On average, each home contains more than 5,000 different species of bacteria and around 2,000 species of fungi. Fungal communities tend to be more predictive of a home's location while bacterial communities provide clues about the identity of its residents.

"Geography is the best predictor of fungi in your home," said Fierer, who is also a research fellow at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at CU-Boulder. "The reason is that most fungi blow in from outdoors via soil and leaves," he said, noting that a home in the upper Midwest, for instance, will harbor distinct fungi compared to a home in the Southeast.

When it comes to bacteria, however, where you live may be less important than whom you live with. From the dust samples, researchers could confidently predict which homes had pets such as cats or dogs and, to a slightly lesser extent, the gender ratio of the residents. Homes with only male occupants, for example, will have a different bacterial makeup than those with both male and female occupants.

"One of the key takeaways is that if you want to change what you breathe inside your house, you would either have to move very far away or change the people and the pets you live with," said Albert Barbarán, a graduate researcher in CU-Boulder's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and lead author of the study.

The findings may have future implications for forensic investigations and allergen research.

The study was co-authored by Rob Dunn, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at North Carolina State University (NCSU); Brian Reich, Associate Professor in the Department of Statistics at NCSU; Krishna Pacifici, Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Applied Ecology at NCSU; Eric Laber, Assistant Professor in the Department of Statistics at NCSU; Holly Menninger, Director of Public Science for the College of Sciences at NCSU; Shelly Miller, Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at CU-Boulder; James Morton, a former graduate researcher in the Department of Interdisciplinary Qualitative Biology at CU-Boulder; and Jessica Henley and Jonathan Leff, both graduate researchers in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at CU-Boulder.

The National Science Foundation provided funding for the research, with additional support from the A.P. Sloan Microbiology of the Built Environment Program and the Personal Genomes Project.

Noah Fierer | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Biology Dust NCSU ecology fungi microbe

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife

nachricht Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>