On March 21-22, the BioBE Center team took to Detroit to present “Biology & Buildings: How Indoor Environments Affect Human Health” to the American Institute of Architects Design & Health Research Consortium. We were encouraged to see the diversity of research blooming at our fellow ACSA schools of architecture. For example, Joseph Kennedy from the NewSchool of Architecture & Design presented fascinating work on natural building materials in a panel discussion with members of the BioBE team. Bita Kash from Texas A&M University presented excellent work on integrating health and design, discussing ideas of fundamental adjacencies in the design process. Every panel was excellent, and the broad concern for integration of empirical methods to design evaluation was wonderful to see.
Most interesting was to learn from leading architecture firms about how they integrate research into their design practices and how they have developed funding models to support this research. Upali Nanda (@upalinanda) of HKS Architects (Houston) talked about the importance of pooling research resources and openly sharing new knowledge in order to more rapidly progress the field and avoid redundancy. Jeri Brittin, Director of Research at HDR Architects (Omaha) eloquently described how the research design process shares similarities with the building design process and how she has effectively used this analogy to explain the value of a rigorous research design process to firm decision makers. Robert Phinney (@rsphinney), Sustainable Design Director at Page Architects (Washington DC), described the uphill climb that many firms face when trying to meaningfully integrate original research into the building design practice, stressing that measurable outcomes and financial metrics dominate the discourse. What was most encouraging was that all three firm leaders described the immense value to their firms and clients of maintaining a tight relationship with university research and how rewarding it can be to work with academics to leverage their technical skills to help overcome the “pain points” facing their practice. We couldn’t agree more!
Some of our most rewarding research has been closely linked with practical industry needs. However, there are some challenges that we face in the academy when integrating our work with industry objective. First and foremost, is to ensure academic integrity when creating the research design to avoid real or perceived biases associated with industry engaged research. Without this, the research has no value to industry or to science. Other important considerations is to be nimble enough to complete the research at the “speed of business” and to work out possible concerns with intellectual property. All of these, and other concerns, can be, and have been overcome. The result in an opportunity to bring the leading scientific processes and utmost rigor to important problems that face society. Industry partners can help to focus academic research and help it gain traction to make greater impact more rapidly. It is for these reasons that we have launched a new industry engagement model here at the University of Oregon.
Congratulations to Gwynne Mhuireach for winning a Dissertation Fellowship from the School of Architecture & Allied Arts at the University of Oregon! Her working dissertation title is: Toward a Mechanistic Understanding of Relationships Between Airborne Microbial Communities and Urban Vegetation: Implications for Urban Planning and Human Well-being. Mhuireach holds an M.Architecture (2012) from the University of Oregon and a B.S. in Biology (Ecology and Evolution Track, 1999) form the University of Washington. She is presently a Graduate Research Fellow at the Energy Studies in Buildings Laboratory and BioBE Center at University of Oregon. Her anticipated graduation is June 2018.
Dissertation Abstract: Variation in exposure to environmental microbial communities has been implicated in the etiology of allergies, asthma and other immune-related disorders. In particular, exposure to a high diversity of microbes during early life, for example through living in highly vegetated environments like farms or forests, may have specific health benefits, including immune system development and stimulation. In the face of rapidly growing cities and potential reductions in urban green space, it is vital to clarify whether and how microbial community composition is related to vegetation. The purpose of my proposed research is to identify plausible but under-explored mechanisms through which urban vegetation may influence public health. Specifically, I am investigating how airborne microbial communities vary with the amount, structural diversity, and/or species composition of green space for 50 sites in Eugene, Oregon. My approach combines geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing data with passive air sampling and culture-independent microbial sequencing.
Dr. Bart Johnson, Professor of Landscape Architecture (Major Advisor & Committee Chair)
Dr. Jessica Green, Professor of Biology (Co-Advisor)
Roxi Thoren, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture (Core Member)
Dr. Deb Johnson-Shelton, Education/Health Researcher, Oregon Research Institute (Core Member)
G.Z. Brown, Professor of Architecture (Institutional Representative)
The Biology and the Built Environment Center (BioBE) and Energy Studies in Buildings Laboratory (ESBL) at the University of Oregon, are pleased to announce the launch of the the Health + Energy Research Consortium! On May 4-5, 2017, in Portland Oregon, we begin our journey to dramatically reduce energy consumption and maximize human health by conducting research that transforms the design, construction and operation of built environments. This collaboration between innovative industry professionals and academic researchers in the disciplines of architecture, biology, chemistry, engineering, and urban design provides sharp focus to a research agenda that will accelerate the impact of key scientific discoveries. The Health + Energy Research Consortium builds upon the momentum of ESBL and BioBE to create a new, dynamic, and flexible mechanism for the university to engage with industry in joint research and development ventures – providing intellectual space for the meeting of a wide array of disciplines that play integral roles in fostering improved energy efficiency and health outcomes in the built environment.
At the May 4-5 launch event , we will present the vision for the Consortium, solicit feedback about the proposed research agenda, explain and discuss the financial commitments and value proposition associated with Consortium membership, and discuss synergies with potential member organizations’ goals and objectives. If you are interested in helping us align the Consortium research vision with the challenges that face our built environment and your industry sector, please contact BioBE Director, Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg.
We would like to acknowledge the generous support for the Health + Energy Research Consortium from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Registration is required, but the event is available at no charge.
Jeff Kline presented BioBE’s project, “The Impact of Weatherization on Microbial Ecology and Human Health” at EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Indoor Air & Climate Change Progress Review Meeting and Webinar. The meeting was held in December in Washington, D.C. The presentations will be made available on the meeting website.
(This post was written by Roo Vandegrift, at the University of Oregon)
I was recently asked to spearhead the writing of a review centered around the interaction between the concept ofhygiene and our increasingly nuanced understanding of the human skin microbiome for the Biology and the Built Environment (BioBE) Center at the University of Oregon.
This review began with an invitation from Dyson to conduct an impartial review of hand drying studies, which have been mired in competing interests and faulty methods. We saw an opportunity to not only provide an unbiased review of the literature, but also to ask a more fundamental question: how should hygiene be defined in light of our evolving perspective of the human and indoor microbiome? We delivered a brief summary to Dyson (here) and then built upon that work to develop this question.
As we started digging into the body of literature on hand hygiene, two things struck us as peculiar: the first was that in the hundreds of studies explicitly examining hygiene, the concept was never explicitly defined; the second was that there seemed to be a clear division between skin microbiological investigations coming from clinically and ecologically informed perspectives, with clinical research generally relying on older cultivation-dependent techniques. These two issues became the drivers for our review, and our goal was to provide an explicit definition of hygiene that would help to bridge the gap between the clinical skin microbiology literature and the newer human-associated microbial ecology literature. We were then able to use the body of literature on hand drying as a case-study to examine the implications of using a microbial ecology-based approach to defining hygiene.
Jessica Green and Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg are quoted in an architecture article wrote by Mark Wilson and published in the Fast Company Magazine called: “The City of Tomorrow is A Petri Dish- By Design”. Read the complete piece here.
The BioBE Center just published a white paper, titled “Hand Hygiene in the 21st Century: Cleanliness in Context” that examines the history and current literature on hygiene. Specifically, the paper focuses on the role of hand drying and the debate in the literature surrounding paper towels and electric hand dryers. We posit that the conception of hygiene as a unilateral reduction or removal of microorganisms has outlived its usefulness, and propose a definition that is quantitative, uses modern molecular biology tools, and is focused on disease reduction. 20170102_BioBE_Hygiene_Dyson_summary
Edit 2017.01.11: updated white paper to reflect most recent version, added image.
The BioBE Center and several other labs funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation are featured in this article by Melissa Pandika in Ozy Magazine. The author interviewed Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, Gwynne Mhuireach, and Jeff Kline of the Center.
BioBE members Jessica Green and Erica Hartmann contributed to a study looking at the microbiome of the Boston transit system, the MBTA. The paper, published in mSystems is out here. The first author on the paper, Tiffany Hsu, also wrote a post on microBEnet.
Erica Hartmann also travelled to Shanghai, China, to represent the Boston subway study team at the second annual Metagenomics & Metadesign of Subways and Urban Biomes (MetaSUB) meeting. Researchers from around the world participated in the first ever world sampling day to collect microbes in subways and shared their experience and progress at this meeting. For more information, check out the project website.
Jessica Green and other 10 fellow microbiome scientists have published an article titled “Toward a Predictive Understanding of Earth’s Microbiomes to Address 21st Century Challenges” in the journal mBio. Read this article here.