What is the Influence of Occupation, Diet, & Lifestyle Factors on Occupant & Built Environment Microbial Ecology?

Research Paper Title

Longitudinal homogenization of the microbiome between both occupants and the built environment in a cohort of United States Air Force Cadets.


The microbiome of the built environment has important implications for human health and wellbeing; however, bidirectional exchange of microbes between occupants and surfaces can be confounded by lifestyle, architecture, and external environmental exposures.


Here, the researchers present a longitudinal study of United States Air Force Academy cadets (n = 34), which have substantial homogeneity in lifestyle, diet, and age, all factors that influence the human microbiome.

The researchers characterised bacterial communities associated with:

  1. Skin and gut samples from roommate pairs;
  2. Four built environment sample locations inside the pairs’ dormitory rooms;
  3. Four built environment sample locations within shared spaces in the dormitory; and
  4. Room-matched outdoor samples from the window ledge of their rooms.


The researchers analysed 2,170 samples, which generated 21,866 unique amplicon sequence variants.

Linear convergence of microbial composition and structure was observed between an occupants’ skin and the dormitory surfaces that were only used by that occupant (i.e., desk). Conversely, bacterial community beta diversity (weighted Unifrac) convergence between the skin of both roommates and the shared dormitory floor between the two cadet’s beds was not seen across the entire study population.

The sampling period included two semester breaks in which the occupants vacated their rooms; upon their return, the beta diversity similarity between their skin and the surfaces had significantly decreased compared to before the break (p < 0.05).

There was no apparent convergence between the gut and building microbiota, with the exception of communal bathroom door-handles, which suggests that neither co-occupancy, diet, or lifestyle homogenisation had a significant impact on gut microbiome similarity between these cadets over the observed time frame.

As a result, predictive classifier models were able to identify an individual more accurately based on the gut microbiota (74%) compared to skin (51%).


To the best of the researchers knowledge, this is the first study to show an increase in skin microbial similarity of two individuals who start living together for the first time and who are not genetically related or romantically involved.

Cohabitation was significantly associated with increased skin microbiota similarity but did not significantly influence the gut microbiota. Following a departure from the occupied space of several weeks, the skin microbiota, but not the gut microbiota, showed a significant reduction in similarity relative to the building.

Overall, longitudinal observation of these dynamics enables the researchers to dissect the influence of occupation, diet, and lifestyle factors on occupant and built environment microbial ecology.


Sharma, A., Richardson, M., Cralle, L.1, Stamper, C.E., Maestre, J.P., Stearns-Yoder, K.A., Postolache, T.T., Bates, K.L., Kinney, K.A., Brenner, L.A., Lowry, C.A., Gilbert, J.A. & Hoisington, A.J. (2019) Longitudinal homogenization of the microbiome between both occupants and the built environment in a cohort of United States Air Force Cadets. Mircobiome. 7(1), pp.70. doi: 10.1186/s40168-019-0686-6.


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