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Microbiology of the built environment


The built environment comprises all structures built by humans, including our homes, workplaces, schools and vehicles. As in any ecosystem on Earth, microorganisms have been found in every part of the built environment that has been studied. They exist in the air, on surfaces and on building materials, usually dispersed by humans, animals and outdoor sources. Those microbial communities and their metabolites have been implied to cause (or exacerbate) and prevent (or mitigate) human disease. In this Review, we outline the history of the field of microbiology of the built environment and discuss recent insights that have been gained into microbial ecology, adaptation and evolution of this ecosystem. Finally, we consider the implications of this research, specifically, how it is changing the types of materials we use in buildings and how our built environments affect human health.

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Fig. 1: Bacterial diversity of the built environment.
Fig. 2: Routes of microbial transmission.
Fig. 3: Effects of the microbial metabolic products on human health.
Fig. 4: Shaping the indoor microbiome.


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J.A.G. and B.S. acknowledge funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (060115). J.A.G. acknowledges S. Lax, C. Cardona and A. Sharma for their help in compiling references and for education about aspects of specific research elements.

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Nature Reviews Microbiology thanks R. Adams, M. Hernandez and M. Täubel for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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J.A.G. and B.S. researched data for the article, made substantial contributions to discussions of the content, wrote the article and reviewed and/or edited the manuscript before submission.

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Correspondence to Jack A. Gilbert.

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Gilbert, J.A., Stephens, B. Microbiology of the built environment. Nat Rev Microbiol 16, 661–670 (2018).

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