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Buildings represent habitats for microorganisms that can have direct or indirect effects on the quality of our living spaces, health, and well-being. Over the last ten years, new research has employed sophisticated tools, including DNA sequencing-based approaches, to study microbes found in buildings and the overall built environment. These investigations have catalyzed new insights into and questions about the microbes that surround us in our daily lives. The emergence of the “microbiology of the built environment” field has required bridging disciplines, including microbiology, ecology, building science, architecture, and engineering. Early insights have included a fuller characterization of sources of microbes within buildings, important processes that structure the distributions and abundances of microbes, and a greater appreciation of the role that occupants can have on indoor microbiology. This ongoing work has also demonstrated that traditional culture- and microscopy-based approaches for studying microbiology vastly underestimate the types and quantity of microbes present in environmental samples. We offer ten questions that highlight important lessons learned regarding the microbiology of buildings and suggest future areas of investigation
The microbiomes of buildings are diverse, dynamic, and one component of the larger indoor environment about which many fundamental questions remain. Understanding how building design and operation influence the indoor microbiome will strengthen our knowledge of relevant physical systems and microbial processes in built environments. Improved knowledge will increase opportunities to make actionable recommendations, which may result from fusing microbial-, building practitioner- and health-related datasets. Both improvements in understanding the human microbiome and work already completed in buildings give a basis to better understand what microbes or microbial products and features in the built environment should be sampled. We can now more strategically target aspects of the built environment that matter to humans, potentially one day influencing how we manage buildings.