Given that humans in the developed world spend 90% of their lives in enclosed buildings, we need to learn more about the biology of the built environment. Buildings are complex ecosystems that house trillions of diverse microorganisms interacting with each other, with humans, and with their environment. Recent advances in microbial genomics offer the potential to significantly advance our understanding of the built environment “microbiome” – the totality of microbial cells, their genetic elements, and their interactions indoors.
To realize this potential, the Biology and the Built Environment (BioBE) Center is engaging with industry partners, conducting original research, and training a new generation of innovators and practitioners at the architecture-biology interface. The vision of this national research center, founded with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, is to develop a hypothesis-driven, evidence-based approach to better understand the microbiome of the built environment (MoBE). Our goal is use this knowledge to optimize the design and operation of buildings and public spaces to promote both human health and environmental sustainability.
Current expertise and research
The BioBE Center is based at the University of Oregon and led by:
- Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg (Co-Director)
- Jessica Green (Co-Director and Founding Director)
- G.Z. (Charlie) Brown
Our interdisciplinary team has expertise in sustainability and energy use in buildings, ecological theory, microbiology, indoor air and surface sampling, molecular sample preparation, high-throughput sequencing, and bioinformatic and statistical analyses. Building on this expertise, we are addressing fundamental questions about architectural practices and the built environment microbiome. These questions include but are not limited to: what dispersal vectors (e.g. ventilation versus human occupancy) significantly influence the built environment microbiome? What attributes of the built environment (e.g. building materials, light exposure, air source and path) shape microbial community composition indoors? How do the drivers of microbial biodiversity in the indoor environment vary with climate, geography, and building operation practices?
The Biology and Built Environment (BioBE) Center is recognized as an international leader in the emerging field of microbiology of the built environment. This research is beginning to transform our conception of human health, and the role of indoor and outdoor environments in supporting health.
The BioBE Center is closely aligned with Energy Studies in Buildings Laboratory (ESBL), also at the University of Oregon. ESBL has established an international position of leadership in the areas of indoor environmental quality, passive design systems, energy efficiency, and integrated design and engineering practices over the past 35 years. ESBL has helped the University of Oregon Department of Architecture in the School of Architecture and Allied Arts become a leading architecture program for sustainable design principles in the USA.
The momentum of ESBL and BioBE together has allowed us to create a new, dynamic, and flexible mechanism for the university to engage with industry in joint research and development ventures: The Institute for Health in the Built Environment. The Institute provides intellectual space for researchers from different institutions in many different fields to work collaboratively to improve our understanding about the built environment, including the improvement of energy efficiency, sustainability, microbiology, and health.