Last week, the staff of the Biology and the Built Environment Center presented cutting-edge science from the Center and beyond to a group of interested practitioners. The Design Champs webinar series is intended to communicate new scientific advances in the field of indoor microbial ecology research to architects, engineers, and other interested parties. For this second seminar in the series, we had representatives in attendance from:
- ZGF Architects
- Thornton Tomasetti
- SRG Partnership
- Hacker Architects
The group was lively, and participated in a active discussion of some of the science we’ve been doing at the BioBE Center lately. In particular, we briefed them on some thoughts on hygiene that we’ve been having lately, and then discussed how that might impact the way we think about design; next, we discussed the human microbial cloud, tying the idea into the discussion of hygiene and design; this led smoothly to a discussion of some of our most recent work, focusing on the transmission of microbes to the human skin microbiome. After discussing how hygiene serves as a conceptual frame for understanding both of those studies, we went on to talk about antimicrobial compounds in built environments, and how that relates to the spread of antibiotic resistance genes.
The webinar finished with a preview of related new work — a much larger study on antibiotic resistance genes in indoor microbiota, conducted across dozen of gyms in the Pacific Northwest, and including the synergistic use of next-generation sequencing for metabarcoding and metagenomics, and targeted LC-MS/MS and intensive antibiotic-resistance culture assays in association with colleagues at Northwestern in Chicago.
Gwynne Mhuireach, a Landscape Architecture PhD candidate and member of BioBE, has been awarded a Science To Achieve Results (STAR) Fellowship from the U.S. EPA to investigate heterogeneity among the microbial communities found in urban residential neighborhoods. She is particularly interested in the influence that abundance, distribution and diversity of vegetation may have on the urban microbiome, and how vegetation and microbes may interact to affect children’s well-being. The STAR Fellowship provides $42,000 per year of funding over a maximum of three years for outstanding graduate students in environmental studies. Since the program began in 1995, EPA has awarded approximately 1,884 Fellowships.
An editorial in the journal Indoor Air from Jessica Green is out today. Jessica describes her vision for incorporating biological insight into architectural design decisions, what she calls “bioinformed design”. In the article, she lays out the arguments for why she believes this is the future of building design and how bioinformed design will shape healthier buildings in the future.
Jessica recently paid a visit to the folks at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to talk about how we can utilize our growing understanding of the built environment microbiome to build healthier, more sustainable buildings. Watch her “What’s Next Health” interview and check out her guest blog post. Also, hidden under the video is a nice infographic about her vision for the future.
The webcast on “Making the Human Health Connection: Healthy Buildings, Healthy People and Healthy Communities” on April 23rd was stimulating and informative. Highlights included:
Judith Heerwagen’s comment that perhaps buildings should be designed more like modern zoos, which value the inclusion of critical elements of the natural environment in order to keep their occupants not only alive, but also psychologically healthy.
Kate Turpin’s discussion of technological innovations in design and construction that are currently being implemented to improve indoor environmental quality (IEQ) – including consideration of indoor air quality, acoustics, biophilia and access to daylight.
Matt Trowbridge’s observations that specificity is a requirement in order for designers to make decisions based on the results of scientific health research.
We are excited to reach out to this community and find opportunities for new collaborations!
Jessica Green’s most recent TED talk is now available — she talks about how our current building design is unconsciously designing the built environment microbiome. With some great data visualizations from a collaboration with Autodesk she discusses using “bioinformed design” to intentionally structure microbial communities around us.
A recent post from The Nature of Cities discusses a case study in Cities and Biodiversity Outlook: Action and Policy, 2012. The study reports that increasing trends in childhood asthma rates are correlated with the density of urban street trees. The report says:
“Rates of childhood asthma in the USA increased by 50 percent between 1980 and 2000, with the highest rates reported in poor urban communities. In New York City, where asthma is the leading cause of hospitalization among children under age 15, researchers at Columbia University studied the correlation between numbers of trees on residential streets and incidences of childhood asthma. They found that as the number of trees rose, the prevalence of childhood asthma tended to fall, even after data were adjusted for sociodemographics, population density, and proximity to pollution sources. How might trees reduce the risk for asthma? One explanation is that they help remove pollutants from the air. Another is that trees may be more abundant in neighborhoods that are well maintained in other ways, leading to lower exposure to allergens that trigger asthma. Yet another is that leafy neighborhoods encourage children to play outdoors, where they are exposed to microorganisms that help their immune systems develop properly. Further studies will provide a clearer picture of whether street trees really do make for healthier children. New York City is currently in the midst of planting a million new trees by 2017.”
ArchLab, a building science studio at HMC Architects, is tracking BioBE’s avant-garde research linking microorganisms in the built environment to building energy conservation strategies while promoting healthy environments.
(credit: wired.com. Flickr/Andrew Dupont)
The BioBE center was featured in an article on Wired, “Is Your Office Building Trying to Kill You?”
Don’t panic! While we may know very little about the indoors, we are working to advance our understanding of the interaction between biology and architecture to inform healthier and more sustainable building designs.
The BioBE Center’s inaugural article was published today in The ISME Journal (available online via Open Access). In it, Kembel et al. report the influence of architectural design on airborne microbial communities in a Portland-area hospital. As compared to outdoor air, the authors find that indoor air harbors less microbial diversity and a higher proportion of potentially pathogenic bacteria. The structure and composition of airborne microbial communities was correlated to a range of building attributes, suggesting that indoor microbiomes can be managed by judiciously manipulating building design and operation. Taken together, these results make the case for evidence-based architectural design informed by a solid understanding of indoor microbial ecology.
Once again, you can see Jessica Green discuss this work at TedGlobal 2011 here.