Man-made microbial resistances in built environments

Antibiotic resistance has been assessed to rise to dangerously high levels in all parts of the world, and new resistance mechanisms are emerging and spreading globally. At the same time the number of people dying from antibiotic-resistant bacteria is increasing. The World Health Organization considers the spread of antibiotic resistance and appropriate countermeasures as one of the most important global challenges of our time.


In an article published in Nature Communications “Man-made microbial resistances in built environments”, Dr. Alexander Mahnert and colleagues investigated microbial control – the degree of cleaning and hygiene measures – and how it influences the development of resistances. The researchers analysed and compared the microbiome and resistome in intensive care unit at Department of Internal Medicine, University Hospital Graz, with clean rooms operated by the aerospace industry, as well as public and private buildings. They analysed the microbial community structure, diversity and function in all these indoor environments with a specific focus on the antibiotic resistance genes, and showed that the microbial diversity decreases in areas with high levels of hygiene but that the diversity of resistance genes increases.


The results indicate that a stable microbial diversity in clinical areas counteracts the spread of resistance genes. The microbial control of pathogens is already established in cultivated plants, and also in humans in the framework of fecal microbiota transplant (FMT). This study provides evidence that such ideas should be further investigated in the context of indoor environments as well. Regular airing, houseplants, deliberate use of beneficial microorganisms, and reduction of antimicrobial cleaning agents could be the first strategies in maintaining or improving microbial diversity.



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