When a recently published paper entitled “Microbial Sequencing Analyses Suggest the Presence of a Fecal Veneer on Indoor Climbing Wall Holds” showed up in my NCBI digest, I got excited. However, my excitement died a little when I actually read the paper. Most importantly, the title is slightly deceptive, as only 9% of all reads in the study classified as fecal-associated organisms. The authors even state that their results indicate “dispersal of microorganisms from climbing shoes, hands, and environmental sources, with less input from human sources on climbing holds compared to other built environments.”
The study authors swabbed hand holds from four unidentified rock climbing gyms-three of which were coastal. The majority of reads across all four gyms were environmental-specifically, soil-associated, likely from the rock climbers’ shoes, with the most abundant phyla being the Proteobacteria, Firmicutes, Cyanobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Actinobacteria, Acidobacteria, and Planctomycetes. Interesting was the increased abundance of marine-associated bacterial reads in coastal gyms compared to the inland gym.
Though I don’t feel as though the findings in the study are earth shattering, they do illustrate an important point-the built environments that we inhabit each and every day-whether they are our houses, workplaces, or gyms-are perfect places for sharing microbes of all sorts-both environmental and human-associated. And while these places represent potential sources for opportunistic pathogens, the more likely scenario is that we only get a healthy dosage of environmental microbes from these built environments.
Speaking of a fecal veneer, I bet those plastic cars, blocks, and playhouses that snotty, salivating, poopy children play on at the malls are just chock FULL of fecal-associated bacteria. Next built environment study, anyone?