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Characterization of the microbiome associated with in situ earthen materials

Abstract : Background The current increase in public awareness of environmental risks is giving rise to a growth of interest in the microbiological safety of buildings. In particular, microbial proliferation on construction materials can be responsible for the degradation of indoor air quality that can increase health-risk to occupants. Raw earth materials are still widely used throughout the world and, in some cases, are linked to heritage habitats, as in the southwest of France. Moreover, these building materials are currently the subject of renewed interest for ecological and economic reasons. However, the microbial status of earthen materials raises major concerns: could the microbiome associated with such natural materials cause disease in building occupants? Very few analyses have been performed on the microbial communities present on these supports. Characterizing the raw earth material microbiome is also important for a better evaluation and understanding of the susceptibility of such materials to microbial development. This study presents the distribution of in situ bacterial and fungal communities on different raw earth materials used in construction. Various buildings were sampled in France and the microbial communities present were characterized by amplicon high-throughput sequencing (bacterial 16S rRNA gene and fungal ITS1 region). Bacterial culture isolates were identified at the species level by MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry. Results The major fungal and bacterial genera identified were mainly associated with conventional outdoor and indoor environmental communities, and no specific harmful bacterial species were detected on earthen materials. However, contrary to expectations, few human-associated genera were detected in dwellings. We found lower microbial alpha-diversity in earthen material than is usually found in soil, suggesting a loss of diversity during the use of these materials in buildings. Interestingly enough, the main features influencing microbial communities were building history and room use, rather than material composition. Conclusions These results constitute a first in-depth analysis of microbial communities present on earthen materials in situ and may be considered as a first referential to investigate microbial communities on such materials according to environmental conditions and their potential health impact. The bacterial and fungal flora detected were similar to those found in conventional habitats and are thought to be mainly impacted by specific events in the building’s life, such as water damage.
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Alexis Simons, Alexandra Bertron, Jean-Emmanuel Aubert, Christophe Roux, Christine Roques. Characterization of the microbiome associated with in situ earthen materials. Environmental Microbiome, 2020, 15 (4), pp.1-11. ⟨10.1186/s40793-019-0350-6⟩. ⟨hal-02520147⟩

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