You share more with your coworkers than team spirit and the occasional box of donuts. Each of you is also a contributor to your office’s “personal microbial cloud.”
Your cloud is primarily made of bacteria that you and your colleagues have shed from your skin, mouths and noses. This shared material combines to form the office’s microbial ecosystem. Your home, car and public spaces have their own clouds too. (Ready for a shower yet?)
Most of the office cloud is comprised of “human skin bacterial communities,” which comprise at least 25-30 percent of the office surface microbiome. So while we cringe when a co-worker sneezes and coughs his or her way through the day, we probably don’t consider that we’re sitting in a swamp comprised of colleagues’ skin bacteria, and breathing in millions of microbes each time we inhale.
And, as a National Public Radio reporter describes it, “each of us trails the microbes of ourselves, others, and the places we visit. Just like Pig-Pen, then, we live in a cloud of microbial dust.”
You can thank researchers from Northern Arizona University’s Caporaso Lab for sharing this knowledge with us. Logically we all know we’re surrounded by our own little wild kingdoms, ecosystems populated by a lively assortment of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. But somehow when you read a study like this you suddenly become hyper-aware of the crud cloud we all live in.
The Caporaso lab team were conducting a multi-city experiment on the best ways to measure the presence of germs in offices. They placed an assortment of germ-collection materials plus sensors that monitored temperature, humidity, and light in various places in nine offices in Flagstaff, Toronto and San Diego. People in the offices were asked not to touch the collection materials for a year.
When the team used gene sequencing and other laboratory techniques to profile bacterial and fungal communities collected from the materials, they discovered that they could identify specific cities just by analyzing sample’s microbial makeup. Office clouds were personalized to some degree, but strongly shared the local characteristics. Samples taken from floors contained more microbes than those collected from walls or ceilings.
“In the United States, humans spend over 90 percent of their time in built environments, such as homes, offices, hospitals, and cars … we just wanted to see what accumulated on a piece of drywall,” said Dr. J. Gregory Caporaso, assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University.
In reference to the shed-skin clouds, Caporaso said “Really, these are just normal organisms that in many cases are part of a healthy microbiome.”
Caporaso says that eventually it may be possible to make good use of those microbial connections to design and construct buildings with healthier microbiomes that are in balance with the surrounding environment.
And while we’re discussing microbes, did you know that over 500 species of microscopic living organisms live in your mouth?.Your little bacterial buddies produce a substance called dextran which works like a glue and enables them to cling to the surface of your teeth, creating a “biofilm” that’s commonly referred to as plaque.
Bacterial plaque is the primary cause of 90% of all dental disease. Bacteria secrete acidic waste products. This creates an acidic environment in your mouth that weakens teeth and leads to decay. Over time, without proper oral hygiene and dental care, the plaque clinging to teeth works its way under the gums, resulting in oral infections.
Your best defense is consistent removal of the bacterial plaque. If its left alone for about 48 hours, it begins to harden – this is called tartar – and is extremely difficult to remove by simple brushing and flossing. You need professional cleanings to remove tartar before it causes dental decay.
If you’ve been putting off seeing your dental hygienist for a cleaning due to budget issues, check out dental savings plans. You can save big on preventive care such as cleanings, x-rays and checkups when you have a plan. For more information, visit dentalplans.com or call 800-238-5163.