One of the research projects in the Hegarty Lab in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Case Western Reserve University focused on characterizing what makes a healthy indoor microbiome.
Dampness and visible mold are ubiquitous in buildings. Nearly 1/5 of buildings in North America and Europe have problems with dampness. The problem is even worse in homes, where an estimated half of homes in the United States are considered damp. Dampness and visible mold are known to lead to negative health effects; however, the causal relationships between fungal exposure and health impacts remains nebulous.
To elucidate these connections, we focus on understanding the ecology and metabolic activity of the microbial communities of homes. Previous work by Prof. Bridget Hegarty demonstrated, in chamber experiments, that dampness impacts fungal community gene expression, something that previous studies have overlooked. We will be extending these experiments into the field to be able to connect the microbial composition of the built environment and their metabolism with human health impacts.
Open questions motivating this work include:
How do fungi affect human health indoors?
What building choices (materials, ventilation, etc) can be used to shape indoor microbiomes?