Microbe-material interactions in the built environment

Angela Sherry*, Beatriz Delgado Corrales, Paula Nerlich, Romy Kaiser, Armand Agraviador

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


In a world still reeling from a global viral pandemic, what do we really know about the microbes that share our indoor spaces and proliferate on household surfaces? We aim to shed light on the invisible microbial world inhabiting common indoor surface materials (e.g., wood, glass, plastic), as well as innovative construction materials; including biocomposites (bioplastics, biomaterials), textiles (3D-knit, new yarns) and bio-fabricated materials (mycelium, bacterial cellulose).

In a unique, experimental living house, the OME, built by the Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment (HBBE), we will implement two installations:

1) BioMateriOME-P: A visual, tactile materials library for public interaction and participation that will convey a narrative around each individual material, from historic construction materials through to novel bio-fabricated materials. The installation will be housed in the exhibition/fabrication space of the OME to encourage interactions with visitors and public.

2) BioMateriOME-X: A number of panels composed of a range of different surface materials, which will be used to investigate the development of indoor microbiomes in replicated experiments. The installation will be housed in the OME apartment (studio, kitchen, shower) in order to characterize the succession of microbial communities across different surface materials over time.

BioMateriOME-P will create an opportunity for learning by providing an accessible gateway to knowledge through play/interaction, from which we will also seek to gauge opinions and perspectives on the materials, which will help to shape new materials, biotechnologies and ideas that are essential for research into sustainable construction materials going forward.

BioMateriOME-X will enable comparative and longitudinal studies of microbes on surfaces composed of different materials to visualise, quantify and characterise microbial interactions on indoor surfaces. State-of-the-art, high-throughput ‘omics’ technologies will be used as well as microscopy and microbial quantification. The aim is to generate microbial data to be able to define a ‘healthy indoor microbiome’ and consequently develop novel biotechnologies to promote, sustain and modulate the microbiome to create healthier indoor environments, which will benefit human health and wellbeing.

By means of public events, hosting workshops and research dissemination, the BioMateriOME installations will team Science and Design to show how we choose to interact with materials, how we can utilise microbes to produce novel biomaterials for sustainable construction, and how we can further begin to understand microbe-materials interactions within the indoor built environment.

The combined elements of BioMateriOME will produce parallel, complimentary data sets from public material interactions and from microbe-material interactions. Together, the two data streams will gauge perceptions of and promote a critical understanding of microbial communities present in human habitats to help inform a microbially conscious approach to designing, constructing, inhabiting and maintaining our built environment.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2021
EventInternational conference of Construction, Energy, Environment & Sustainability (CEES) 2021 - Coimbra, Portugal
Duration: 12 Oct 202115 Oct 2021


ConferenceInternational conference of Construction, Energy, Environment & Sustainability (CEES) 2021
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