Sloan Foundation renews support for UO center examining biology, architecture

Earlier this month, a study about our personal microbial clouds—halos of bacteria unique to each individual—made national headlines. The University of Oregon research center behind that study—the Biology and Built Environment Center (BioBE)—recently received a two-year, $1.3 million grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to continue to investigate the relationship between architectural design and the indoor microbiome—the collection of bacteria, fungi and viruses found inside of buildings.

“The University of Oregon’s BioBE center has become the nation’s leading multidisciplinary research institution in the emerging science of indoor microbial ecology,” says Paula J. Olsiewski, Director of the Sloan Foundation’s program on the Microbiology of the Built Environment.  “We are proud to be able to support their pioneering work.”

BioBE has made significant achievements in research, outreach, and training since it was founded in 2010 by three UO faculty members: Jessica Green, associate professor of biology, G.Z. Brown, professor of architecture, and Brendan Bohannan, professor of biology. The center has documented the microbial fingerprints of our phones and how architectural design can influence how microbes grow inside our homes and offices.

“The grant from the Sloan Foundation is an affirmation of the innovative research being conducted by the faculty, post-docs and students of the BioBE Center,” said Brad Shelton, interim vice president for research and innovation. “Their investigations have yielded important insights into the interdependent relationships between design and microbiology and they continue to lead the way in an emerging field of inquiry.”

According to information on the center’s website, the next phase of research will examine how daylight and chemicals impact the function of indoor microbial communities. In particular, BioBE will be investigating the role of antimicrobial chemicals in promoting antibiotic resistance indoors.

“Although humans in the developed world spend 90% of their lives in enclosed buildings, we know very little about the biology of the built environment,” said Jessica Green, director of the BioBE Center. “Our next phase of research will look into the implications of antibiotic resistance, which impacts hospitals, clinics, schools, and of course, our own homes.”

Research by BioBE has revealed that indoor microbial communities in air, on surfaces, and in dust are affected by architectural design choices such as form, organization, and ventilation. These scientific discoveries have been widely covered by major media outlets, including TED, BBC News, the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover, NBC, Wired, and Forbes, among others.

Through its research programs, BioBE is training a new generation of scientists, designers, and other innovators. This past year, several students received awards for their research with BioBE, including Kyla Martichuski, who was one of two UO undergraduates named Goldwater Scholars this year. Martichuski, a junior in the laboratory of Jessica Green, is researching the diversity and temporal dynamics of fungal communities in the atmosphere.

For recent publications, news and more information on the center, visit the BioBE website.