Central apartment with two bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen and healthy microbes, for rent. It could soon be an advertisement in the apartment rental section in any newspaper, because we all prefer to live in a healthy environment, and the composition of a building’s microbes is undoubtedly one of the factors that can contribute to it. A few weeks ago, an analysis of the bacteria that live in a building of the University of Oregon that houses classrooms and offices together with the appropriate services, in total 155 enclosures, was published.
The analysis techniques have advanced so much so far in the century that they make it relatively simple to obtain detailed catalogues of the microbes that inhabit anywhere, from the caves with cave paintings to the polar ice, so to identify the microbes of a building University is no longer difficult.
The constructions, besides bricks cables and pipes, continue a varied collection of microbes. Within a building of these proportions the spaces have different uses, are distinctly connected to each other and their ventilation is also different. It turns out that not only the toilets house specific microbes, which could be expected, but also classrooms, corridors, offices and warehouses, as if they were the different cages of a zoo, each exhibiting its own collection of microscopic beasts.
One of the biggest differences in the type of bacteria that are housed in each enclosure is first established by the type of room and its connection with other rooms. The toilets, which are not just connected to the rest of the rooms, are in which the composition of the bacteria is more different. It also contributes to this, which are the places to which a greater diversity of people go. And it is precisely the dependencies where the bacteria related to the skin and the human intestine such as Lactobacillus, Staphylococcus and Streptococcus are most abundant. In contrast, in toilets, bacteria such as Sphingomonas, inhabitants of the environment, are less frequent.
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Three sources of microbes in a public building
The occupants and telephones, in addition to ventilation, contribute to carrying microbes to the less connected enclosures, the toilets.
Remarkable differences are also established between the offices by the type of ventilation they receive, either by mechanical circulation or through windows. In the former, Deinococcus, Achromonobacter and Roseomonas predominate, while Methylobacterium, Sphingomonas and Streptococcus are the most abundant in offices with windows. In both cases they are more abundant bacteria in the environment than in the human body, with some such as Deinococcus that are more resistant to adverse environmental conditions predominantly in dry places caused by forced ventilation, and others such as Methylobacterium, inhabitants of the soil and surface of the plants that colonize the windows ventilated enclosures.
The Lillis building of the University of Oregon. The enclosure used to study the distribution of microbes.
Considering the architectural design, the radial floors, that is to say a central hall from which several corridors diverge, are places very busy by the occupants of the building to go from one place to another and are associated with a greater frequency of microbes related to the body human. On the contrary, long corridors withstand minor traffic and consequently house fewer microbes. We know that in our bodies a multitude of bacteria inhabit and that is why it will be important to study in detail how they relate to those that live in the buildings we inhabit, with that knowledge it will be possible to introduce the precise elements to build buildings not only in the architectural design of the future Functional but also healthy.
Bacteria can rehabilitate buildings damaged by time passing and affecting stone walls
Microorganisms that develop in polluted urban areas are largely responsible for the degradation of historic buildings. Scientists at the English University of Portsmouth look for ways to reverse that trend and take advantage of the action of bacteria. As Anne Purkiss points out, a team led by Dr. Eric May, part of the European Biobrush program (Bioremediation for Building Restoration of the Urban Stone Heritage), will use the bacteria to preserve European heritage. The team wants to design a biotechnological tool that is both ecological, linking the desulfurization and denitrification processes with that of biocalcification. Some organisms use sulphates, nitrates or organic waste to form layers of calcium on mineral surfaces.
The team will study a certain number of microorganisms to destroy mineral salts and organic compounds thus formed, and other bacteria that produce biocalcite to help consolidate the stone after the initial treatment. Italian, Greek, Latvian and German universities participate in this project, with experts in microbiology, materials, conservation and industrial processes. Tests are already being carried out in laboratories and in different historic buildings in northern and southern Europe. Current conservation practices, such as the application of fixatives and waterproofing materials, are not always effective and are sometimes harmful to the stone. Mechanical processes can also damage materials, while this innovative technology will be reversible, easily controllable and possibly cheaper than conventional ones.
A modern building, ten years old but designed with criteria for energy saving and healthy living, has now been thoroughly inspected in order to take samples of the bacteria present in the dust found inside, and thus analyse its community bacterial
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