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Geomicrobiology of the built environment

Microbial colonization and growth can have significant impacts on the built environment, resulting in a range of effects, from discolouration and staining to biodeterioration and decay. In some cases, formation of biofilms, crusts and patinas may confer bioprotection of the substrate. This Perspective aims to discuss how geomicrobial transformations in the natural environment—particularly those that involve rocks, minerals, metals and organic matter—may be applied to understand similar processes occurring on fabricated human structures. However, the built environment may offer further strictures as well as benefits for microbial activity, and these should be taken into account when considering analogy with natural processes, especially when linking observations of microbial biodiversity to the more obvious manifestations of microbial attack.

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Figure 1: Some of the main influences and effects of microorganisms on components of the built environment and human-made structures.
Figure 2: Examples of biofouling, discolouration, staining and biodeterioration of cultural heritage predominantly caused by algae, fungi and lichens.

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Acknowledgements

Financial support in G.M.G.'s laboratory is received from the Natural Environment Research Council (NE/M010910/1 (TeaSe); NE/M011275/1 (COG3)), which is gratefully acknowledged. G.M.G. also gratefully acknowledges an award under the 1000 Talents Plan with the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Urumqi, China, and support from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (U1503281).

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G.M.G. planned and wrote the article, supplied the figures, and originated the hypotheses, ideas and conclusions therein.

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Correspondence to Geoffrey Michael Gadd.

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Gadd, G. Geomicrobiology of the built environment. Nat Microbiol 2, 16275 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nmicrobiol.2016.275

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