Better get out of bed!
From io9.com, and reporting on an article in Discover magazine: “Your pillow is a lot like a toilet seat, microbially speaking.” And it’s not an exaggeration! Students in BIO230 should be well aware of the microorganisms that are inside us and surround us. It is estimated that the number of prokaryotic cells occupying the volume of the human body outnumber the human cells in that volume by at least ten-fold. Fortunately, human cells are significantly larger than prokaryotes, so we still outnumber our microbial flora by mass, if not in number. Outside the human body, we interact with huge numbers of microorganisms with every breath. DNA analysis indicates that there are upwards of 10 million bacteria in every cubic meter of air. Those bacteria would enter the lungs through just a few minutes of breathing.
The authors of the article in Discover point out that perhaps contrary to popular perception, the movement of humans into our houses does not mean that we now live in a more germ free environment. Every surface we interact with is teeming with microbes that vary hugely in their pathogenic, or disease causing, potential. Complicating analysis of indoor microbes is the fact that we actively move air throughout our buildings, and this moves micro organisms.
Norm Pace of the University of Colorado has been a leader in the analysis of microbial ecology, and has described the vast number of organisms that inhabit things like shower heads. In addition to getting your body clean, you are also aerosolizing microbes and inhaling them when you breath. In clinical settings, reservoirs such as shower heads can be sources for nosocomial infections, which can lead to very poor patient outcomes.
Jessica Green and her collaborators at the University of Oregon’s Biology and the Built Environment Center (BioBE) argue that we must come to terms with these organisms, particularly in the hospital environment. They suggest that if the hospital ecosystem promotes the growth of dangerous microorganisms, we should endeavor to find a way to create a healthier microbial ecosystem, by altering floor plans, reconfiguring the ventilation system, and actively moving more healthful bacteria from outside to inside the building. They have found that buildings have created microenvironments, where distinct locations have very defined populations of bacteria. The organisms on your pillow for instance are far different than the ones on the floor by your bed. By understanding how these two populations interact and contribute both positively and negatively to our health, we can make more informed decisions about how nosocomial infections might be curtailed!