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Some facts about your home's bacterial neighborhoods 

Values represent median percentages. Warmer colors indicate greater influences of bacterial sources on the various surfaces. For example, these results show that soil is a more important source of bacteria on door trims than on cutting boards.

Source: PLoS One

Values represent median percentages. Warmer colors indicate greater influences of bacterial sources on the various surfaces. For example, these results show that soil is a more important source of bacteria on door trims than on cutting boards.

Your home is a collection of bacterial neighborhoods: vibrant downtowns (the kitchen), sleepy suburbs (bedrooms) and rural outposts of microbes (that shelf you never can reach).

So who's living there? The Wild Life of Our Home is a project by Rob Dunn, a biologist at N.C. State University, and Noah Fierer at the University of Colorado, who are sampling 1,400 U.S. homes—including 40 in the Triangle—to study their microbal ecosystems.

The New York Times featured the project in its May 27 edition and reported that in the initial sampling round, microbe-minded volunteers from 40 homes in Raleigh-Durham used CultureSwabs to sample parts of their houses: a kitchen cutting board, kitchen counter, refrigerator shelf, toilet seat, pillowcase, TV screen, exterior doorknob and interior and exterior door trims.

According to a study published last week in the journal PLoS One, each of the nine sampled locations "harbored significantly distinct communities." (The study also accounted for the presence of children, dogs, cats and carpet as well as allergies and the recent use of pesticides, all of which influence the diversity and amount of microbes in the home.)

The conclusion, reports the Times: "Humans rapidly infect the spaces in which they live."

An average of 2,253 bacterial species were found per home, with a range of 1,547 to 3,360. The neighborhoods were most diverse where airborne particulates (read: dust) collect: on TV screens and door trims. Bacteria from human skin was found on the usual suspects: pillowcases, toilet seats and door handles.

Want to participate in other home-based science projects? N.C. State is the host university for several:

Armpit-pa-looza
Camel Cricket Census
Meet Your Mites
School of Ants
Sampling Your Home's Arthropods Missing Scenes of Nature

Go to yourwildlife.org to learn more and to enroll as a citizen scientist.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Howard Hughes would recoil in horror."

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