SEP 07, 2016 10:30 AM PDT

Exploring the Great Indoors: Relevance of the Built Environment to Human Health

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  • Microbial Ecologist and Postdoctoral Scholar, Univeristy of Oregon
      Dr. Roxana Hickey is a microbial ecologist and postdoctoral scholar at the University of Oregon Biology and the Built Environment (BioBE) Center. She obtained a Ph.D. in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology in 2015 and a B.S. in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in 2010, both from the University of Idaho. Dr. Hickey's research is motivated by a desire to understand the causes and consequences of variation in the trillions of microorganisms inhabiting the human body, collectively known as the microbiome. During her graduate studies, she performed research to understand what constitutes a normal and healthy vaginal microbiome as a necessary step toward improving women's health. Her research explored microbial community dynamics of the vaginal microbiome during puberty and in adulthood. Struck by the variability among different individuals' microbiomes, Dr. Hickey became increasingly interested in understanding how external factors may influence the assembly and dynamics of microbial communities throughout the human body. Since joining the BioBE Center in 2015, she has expanded her scope of study to explore the role of the indoor environment in shaping the human skin and gut microbial communities. Working alongside BioBE Director Dr. Jessica Green, she is forging interdisciplinary collaborations with architects, building engineers, ecologists and psychologists to resolve the interactions among the human microbiome, built environment and human health. To this end, Dr. Hickey is actively conducting research to characterize the source and transmission of bioaerosols in the indoor environment, investigate the dispersal and composition of human "microbial clouds," evaluate connections between home dust and the gut microbiome of children, and assess the impacts of home weatherization improvements on indoor microbial diversity, air quality and health.


    The human body is populated with trillions of microorganisms, collectively termed the human microbiome, that play vital roles in health including nutrition and metabolism, immune development, and protection against pathogens. Likewise, the homes and buildings we inhabit, or the built environment, possess their own microbiomes as well. A growing body of evidence indicates that people, pets, plants, and ventilation and plumbing systems all contribute distinctive suites of microbes indoors, in addition to environmental microbes introduced from outside. Given that humans spend the vast majority of their lives inside, there is a pressing need to understand how the built environment microbiome in turn influences the human microbiome so that we can design buildings that promote and sustain health. In this presentation I will highlight the ways in which humans alter the composition of the indoor environment and what the consequences may be for human health.
    Learning Objective 1: Understand the significance of the indoor microbiome to human health
    Learning Objective 2: Discuss evidence for how occupancy and operation of buildings can influence the indoor microbiome

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