Last June, I started a position as a Research Assistant Professor of Microbial Ecology at the Biology and the Built Environment Center at the University of Oregon. The BioBE Center is a collaborative, interdisciplinary research team investigating the built environment – the ecosystem that humans have created for themselves in buildings, vehicles, roadways, cities, etc. With my background in host-associated microbiology, I am concerned with how the built environment interacts with biology.
Humans shed microorganisms constantly – every itch, every cough, every minute. In fact, our buildings are littered with the biological material shed from our bodies and our microbiomes (1, 2, 3, 4). Pets (1, 2) and plants (1, 2) also contribute, and so does outdoor air (1, 2). In fact, the indoor environment is full of microorganisms.
In addition to knowing how our presence, our behaviors (ex. cleaning), and how we run our buildings (ex. ventilation) creates the indoor microbiome, I want to know how the indoor microbiome affects us back. Not only can “sick buildings” negatively affect air quality, but they can harbor more microorganisms, especially fungi, or pathogenic species which are detrimental to our health.
My first indoor microbiome data is one that I have inherited from an ongoing project on weatherization in homes, and hope to present some of that work at conferences this summer. Since June, a large amount of my time has gone into project development and grant writing, most of which is still pending, so stay tuned for details. It has involved read lots of articles, going to seminars, networking, and brainstorming with some brilliant researchers.
As research faculty, I am not required to teach, although I have the option to propose and teach courses by adjusting my percent effort (I would use the teaching salary to “buy back” some research salary). As I am not currently tenure-track, I am also limited in my ability to hire and formally mentor students. However, I have been teaching bioinformatics to a student who recently graduated with his bachelor’s and is pursuing a masters in bioinformatics later this year.
I’ve also been keeping up with my science outreach. I gave a presentation on my host-associated microbiome work, I marched, I volunteered for a few hours at Meet A Scientist day at the Eugene Science Center, and I’m hosting a Science Pub on “A crash course in the microbiome of the digestive tract” at Whirled Pies in Eugene this Thursday, February 8th!