Every human being that walks into a building — in one hour they contribute 37 million bacteria to the air. That’s as many bacteria as the number of people that are currently living in the state of California.
Professor Jessica Green believes the way we manage bacteria inside our buildings is headed in the wrong direction. “We build our buildings to keep microbes out,” she tells the audience in her talk, “Good germs make healthy buildings” at TEDxPortland, “regardless of whether they are good or bad.”
In her work, Green studies the way microbes — bacteria, viruses, and other tiny organisms — travel in and out of modern architecture, hoping to discover the best way for humans to live with (and love) their microbes:
“Our bodies, just like any ecosystem, rely on our microbes to survive. Our microbes protects us from germs and pathogens; they allow us to get nutrients from our food; and they also boost our immune system. And recent evidence suggests that they even influence our moods — our levels of stress and anxiety and depression.”
Inhabitants of homes, offices, studios, and other indoor spaces should cultivate healthy microbial gardens, Green believes, and she is sure that the way to do this is a lot different than the way most of us live now:
“Humans have been around for hundreds of thousands of years but this era of modern buildings that are hermetically sealed, environmentally constant, cleaned on a very regular basis — this has been around only for about 60 years. And I believe that what we’re breeding indoors — or growing — is a microbial monoculture. When you think about our bodies, we probably haven’t evolved to be able to function very well in this type of microbial environment. And there’s a lot of evidence that has been published recently that suggests that many of the ways of modern living may be affiliated with the rise of antibiotic resistance, and rise in autoimmune disorders that we all face in the developed world — like asthma and allergies.”
However, studies in microbes’ place in architectural design are still young, and Professor Green is in the midst of collaborations with architects to better understand how design determines microbe diversity. To learn more about Green’s call to action to grow good microbes, watch her talk here:
(Photos: Top row — Left, Salmonella bacteria invade an immune cell from NIAID_Flickr; Middle, Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria from NIAID_Flickr; Right, Rhizopus stolonifer fungus from FEI Company Flickr, Courtesy of Angelika Reichmann. Bottom — from Jessica Green’s talk.)