With the swabbing kits distributed and the ice blocks on the way to the freezer, the first 'kitchen safaris' of the Good Germs Bad Germs project are set to begin this weekend.
We are working with a group of households in Oxford united by their curiosity to explore the microbial life in their homes. In this first safari, our participants are going to investigate their kitchen surfaces, sinks, chopping boards, door handles and kitchen floors. They are also going to sample another area of their choice - where exactly is up to them. And once the samples have been analyzed, we are going to meet up and have a good natter about what everybody finds.
Some clues about what that might be come from recent research conducted in the US, and summarized in a recent article in the New York Times. Drawing on the work of Noah Fierer and Rob Dunn, amongst others, the article explains how microbiologists are beginning to map the links between microbial communities and the humans whose houses they inhabit. Here's an extract:
"Take an average kitchen. In a study published in February in the journal Environmental Microbiology, Dr. Fierer’s lab examined 82 surfaces in four Boulder kitchens. Predictable patterns emerged. Bacterial species associated with human skin, like Staphylococcaceae or Corynebacteriaceae, predominated. Evidence of soil showed up on the floor, and species associated with raw produce (Enterobacteriaceae, for example) appeared on countertops. Microbes common in moist areas — including sphingomonads, some strains infamous for their ability to survive in the most toxic sites — splashed in a kind of jungle above the faucet."
You can read the article in full here.
And good luck to our ‘citizen scientists’ with their swabbing!