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“Germs” in cars

Maserati Quattroporte Exec GT interior at 2006 Chicago Auto Show
When people hear “microbiology of the built environment” they tend to focus on buildings.  But the built environment also includes things like trains, cars, planes, even the space station where some cool microbiology work has taken place.

When looking for work on the microbiology of these environments I came across a small, non-peer reviewed study about “germs” in cars.  The reason I’m posting about this is to highlight the limits of using only culture-based methods for sampling these kind of environments.

I like the idea of this study… sample several sites (steering wheel, cup holder etc.) from a bunch of different cars in a few different climates and see what’s there.  However, the authors determined the presence of bacteria on one kind of plate, incubated at one temperature.  Same for mold.  Using this information they conclude for example that cars in Chicago have 15 times the mold of cars in Florida.

To really get an understanding of all the microbes present in cars, some kind of sequence-based survey would be needed… either a ribosomal RNA survey or a metagenomics approach (depending on the question)

One of our goals here at microBEnet is to increase the understanding and use of sequence-based microbiological techniques in the built environment.  Look for more on this topic here in the future, including an upcoming series of factsheets on these methods



David Coil

David Coil is a Project Scientist in the lab of Jonathan Eisen at UC Davis. David works at the intersection between research, education, and outreach in the areas of the microbiology of the built environment, microbial ecology, and bacterial genomics. Twitter

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