ExtraCredit: Simon Lax seminar

Simon Lax presented the lecture “Our Microbial Interaction with Build Environments” where he described his research projects. Simon emphasized the importance of understanding on how microorganisms in the environment can affect us by changing our microbiota and, thus, affect our immunological health. In his research project, multiple environmental samples were collected (with cotton swabs) in order to extract genomic DNA, amplify the gene of interest via PCR, and sequence formed amplicon. 16S rRNA (for bacteria and Archaea) and 18S (for Fungi) amplicon sequencing methods were used to study taxonomy of collected samples. Simon added that his preliminary research has been completed and a Shotgun metagenomic sequencing would be applied as the next step.

In his research, Simon was answering the following questions: Do the microbial communities of home surfaces similar to those on home occupants; how unique the microbial communities are in different homes; what are the major interactions between the home environment and the occupants; how stable the microbial communities on home surfaces. There were samples collected from six home surfaces (counters, floors, doorknobs), three from humans (hands, feet, and noses), also from pets (feet). 18 participants and 7 homes were participating in the experiment (I didn’t catch on how many pets were participating). From the presented results, the person can be tracked in his/her movement in the house via “source-tracking model” because each one of us has “unique microbial fingerprint” (Lax, 2016). For example, “68% of microorganisms on the bathroom door know were originated from the hand #1”, and “much less transfers from noses” (per Simon Lax, 2016). When the occupant leaves the house for several days, microbial fingerprints on home surfaces decline. If to introduce pets to the data, it “mixes everything up because pets are literally everywhere” (Simon Lax).

Simon also spoke about his other research projects: “Forensic insight from Shoe and Cell phone” and “Colonization and Succession of Hospital-Associated Microbiota”. In the results, the person can be matched with the places he/she was walking. As hospitals are dealing with MRSA, different samples from patients’ rooms, floors, and nurse stations were collected for research purposes. The following “hot spots” were found, such as door knobs, handrails, nurses’ pagers and phones, and floors.

In the conclusion, we live in a diverse microbial environment, some of it is a part of us. In the Microbiology class this semester, students will be completing the similar projects: collecting samples from different environments, extracting DNA, and analyze bacterium’s genome sequence with its following identification. Students will present their projects as Simon did (less audience, of course). The lecture was very informative and interesting. The question I had was the following: if the hospitals can benefit with implementation of floor disinfecting barriers? Can disinfecting barriers on the hospital floor reduce the diversity and abundance of microorganisms? It can be very important especially if the patient has a compromised immune system response and unnecessary exposure to microorganisms can harm but not benefit the patient.