Nav: Home

City apartments or jungle huts: What chemicals and microbes lurk inside?

November 04, 2019

What are the differences between life in a walled urban apartment versus in a jungle hut that's open to nature?

Researchers at Rutgers and other universities found city homes to be rife with industrial chemicals, cleaning agents and fungi that love warm, dark surfaces, while jungle huts had fresher air, more sunlight and natural materials with which humans evolved.

The differences may profoundly affect our health, according to the study in the journal Nature Microbiology. Urbanization is associated with a reduction in infectious diseases, but also with a worldwide increase in obesity, asthma, allergies, autism and other disorders as well as a massive loss of diversity in the human microbiome, the beneficial germs living on and in our bodies.

The researchers compared microscopic materials in homes and people's bodies, spanning the spectrum of urbanization in the Amazon basin. The locations included a remote Peruvian jungle village of thatched huts with no walls; a Peruvian rural town with wooden houses lacking indoor plumbing; a Peruvian city of 400,000 residents and more modern amenities; and the metropolis of Manaus, Brazil, which has a population of two million.

"Urbanization represents a profound shift in human behavior. Modern living literally walls us off from the natural environment and shuts us in with industrial compounds, higher carbon dioxide levels and skin-loving fungi," said senior author Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, a professor in Rutgers University-New Brunswick's Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology and Department of Anthropology. "This study sheds light on how human-created environments affect our health and how we can think about improving them."

The study found that the diversity of chemicals clinging to indoor surfaces increases dramatically with urbanization. Molecules derived from medications and cleaning agents were part of the interior environment of homes in the metropolis and city but not in the rural or jungle homes.

Although the urban dwellers reported cleaning more frequently, surfaces in their homes had a greater diversity of fungal species associated with human skin. This may be because the fungi have become resistant to cleaning products, the study said. It may also reflect the urban homes' warmer temperatures, reduced air exchange, lower levels of natural light and higher loads of human skin flakes. Samples from people in the different environments also found a greater diversity of foot fungus on the urban dwellers. Also, in the rural and jungle homes, the researchers found a greater variety of bacteria and fungi that live outside, and fewer species known for colonizing the human body.

"We are just now starting to quantify the effect of cutting ourselves off from the natural environment with which we as humans co-evolved and of replacing it with a synthetic environment," said co-corresponding author Rob Knight, a professor and director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation at the University of California-San Diego. "What's next is to identify the specific differences associated with urbanization that have a health impact and to design interventions to reverse them. Those could be anything from knowing how many minutes a week should be spent outdoors in natural environments to air fresheners that are good for the microbiome."

Dominguez-Bello said exposure to outdoor germs and natural materials may benefit the human microbiome. Her prior research found that people in urbanized societies have lost a substantial part of their microbiota diversity compared with hunter-gatherers in isolated Amazonian villages.
-end-
The study's co-authors include Martin Blaser, director of Rutgers' Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine, and researchers at the University of Oklahoma, University of California-San Diego, Ghent University, University of Puerto Rico, Federal University of Amazonas, University of Texas at Austin, Concordia University-Portland, New York University Langone Medical Center, and Federal University of ABC.

Rutgers University

Related Microbiome Articles:

Diet, nutrition have profound effects on gut microbiome
A new literature review from scientists at George Washington University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology suggests that nutrition and diet have a profound impact on the microbial composition of the gut.
Researchers uncover the moscow subway microbiome
Recently, a group of ITMO University researchers has looked into the microbiome of the Moscow Subway.
Study provides first look at sperm microbiome using RNA sequencing
A new collaborative study published by a research team from the Wayne State University School of Medicine, the CReATe Fertility Centre and the University of Massachusetts Amherst provides the first in-depth look at the microbiome of human sperm utilizing RNA sequencing with sufficient sensitivity to identify contamination and pathogenic bacterial colonization.
What we're learning about the reproductive microbiome
Most research has focused on the oral, skin, and gut microbiomes, but bacteria, viruses, and fungi living within our reproductive systems may also affect sperm quality, fertilization, embryo implantation, and other aspects of conception and reproduction.
New metabolic pathway discovered in rumen microbiome
Cows can adapt themselves to a fluctuating sodium content in their feed.
Harnessing the microbiome to improve stroke recovery
Supplementing the body's short chain fatty acids can improve stroke recovery, according to research in mice recently published in JNeurosci.
How do you cultivate a healthy plant microbiome?
Crops today never see their parents' microbiome, so how do they develop a leaf microbial community that's healthy and resistant to invasion by pathogens?
When your microbiome and your genome aren't a good combination
Research carried out by a team led by Osaka University has shown that various Prevotella species, along with several specific genes and biological pathways, are enriched in the gut microbiota of Japanese patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
New findings on gut microbiome's interactions with GI diseases
A study from the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences offers new insight on how the gut bacteria of dogs interact with a healthy vs. unhealthy GI tract, which could contribute to the development of new therapies for GI diseases in both dogs and humans.
Shark skin microbiome resists infection
No evidence of infection found in the bacterial community around shark wounds.
More Microbiome News and Microbiome Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans 2.0
More than test scores or good grades–what do kids need for the future? This hour, TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, both during and after this time of crisis. Guests include educators Richard Culatta and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 3: Shared Immunity
More than a million people have caught Covid-19, and tens of thousands have died. But thousands more have survived and recovered. A week or so ago (aka, what feels like ten years in corona time) producer Molly Webster learned that many of those survivors possess a kind of superpower: antibodies trained to fight the virus. Not only that, they might be able to pass this power on to the people who are sick with corona, and still in the fight. Today we have the story of an experimental treatment that's popping up all over the country: convalescent plasma transfusion, a century-old procedure that some say may become one of our best weapons against this devastating, new disease.   If you have recovered from Covid-19 and want to donate plasma, national and local donation registries are gearing up to collect blood.  To sign up with the American Red Cross, a national organization that works in local communities, head here.  To find out more about the The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project, which we spoke about in our episode, including information on clinical trials or plasma donation projects in your community, go here.  And if you are in the greater New York City area, and want to donate convalescent plasma, head over to the New York Blood Center to sign up. Or, register with specific NYC hospitals here.   If you are sick with Covid-19, and are interested in participating in a clinical trial, or are looking for a plasma donor match, check in with your local hospital, university, or blood center for more; you can also find more information on trials at The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project. And lastly, Tatiana Prowell's tweet that tipped us off is here. This episode was reported by Molly Webster and produced by Pat Walters. Special thanks to Drs. Evan Bloch and Tim Byun, as well as the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.