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Cities May Have Distinct Microbial 'Citizens,' Too

Study found wide differences in germ communities sampled in three urban areas

TUESDAY, April 19, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Every city has its own character, and new research suggests that could even extend to a municipality's microbial communities.

Researchers analyzed microbes collected over one year from three offices in each of three places: Flagstaff, Ariz., San Diego and Toronto. Microbes are bacteria, viruses and fungi that are too small to see without a microscope.

The Flagstaff offices had richer microbial communities than those in San Diego or Toronto, which were more similar. But, the reasons for those differences are unknown, according to the study published April 12 in the journal mSystems.

The researchers also found that human skin is a major source of office microbes and that office floors have more microbes than walls or ceilings, likely due to materials carried in on workers' shoes.

Study senior author J. Gregory Caporaso, assistant director of the Center for Microbial Genetics and Genomics at Northern Arizona University, said in a journal news release that the discovery that each city had unique microbial communities was "especially interesting."

"Even within each city, the offices we studied differed from each other in terms of size, usage patterns and ventilation systems, suggesting that geography is more important than any of these features in driving the bacterial community composition of the offices within the ranges that we studied," he said.

"As we continue to expand our understanding of the microbiology of the built environment, possibly including routine monitoring of microbial communities to track changes that may impact human health, our results will help inform future research efforts," Caporaso said.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about microbes.

SOURCES: mSystems, news release, April 12, 2016

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