Research Article: A different suite: The assemblage of distinct fungal communities in water-damaged units of a poorly-maintained public housing building

Date Published: March 18, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Iman A. Sylvain, Rachel I. Adams, John W. Taylor, Vishnu Chaturvedi.


Water-damaged housing has been associated with a number of negative health outcomes, principally respiratory disease and asthma. Much of what we know about fungi associated with water-damaged buildings has come from culture-based and immunochemical methods. Few studies have used high-throughput sequencing technologies to assess the impact of water-damage on microbial communities in residential buildings. In this study we used amplicon sequencing and quantitative-PCR to evaluate fungal communities on surfaces and in airborne dust in multiple units of a condemned public housing project located in the San Francisco Bay Area. We recruited 21 households to participate in this study and characterized their apartments as either a unit with visible mold or no visible mold. We sampled airborne fungi from dust settled over a month-long time period from the outdoors, in units with no visible mold, and units with visible mold. In units with visible mold we additionally sampled the visible fungal colonies from bathrooms, kitchens, bedrooms, and living rooms. We found that fungal biomass in settled dust was greater outdoors compared to indoors, but there was no significant difference of fungal biomass in units with visible mold and no visible mold. Interestingly, we found that fungal diversity was reduced in units with visible mold compared to units with no visible mold and the outdoors. Units with visible mold harbored fungal communities distinct from units with no visible mold and the outdoors. Units with visible mold had a greater abundance of taxa within the classes Eurotiomycetes, Saccharomycetes, and Wallemiomycetes. Colonies of fungi collected from units with visible mold were dominated by two Cladosporium species, C. sphaerospermum and C halotolerans. This study demonstrates that high-throughput sequencing of fungi indoors can be a useful strategy for distinguishing distinct microbial exposures in water-damaged homes with visible and nonvisible mold growth, and may provide a microbial means for identifying water damaged housing.

Partial Text

It is well established that humans spend most of their time in their homes; the estimate is 70% for residents of the United States [1]. It is equally well established that housing is a major social determinant of health [2]. Damp, moldy housing is linked with a number of negative health outcomes, such as respiratory infections, asthma, allergy, and compromised mental health [3]. Given that ethnic minorities and low-income populations disproportionately occupy inadequate and unhealthy housing, there is resultant public health disparity [4]. Acknowledging these factors, the World Health Organization recognizes access to a healthy indoor environment as a basic human right [5], and some public health practitioners view the desegregation of North American housing as an environmental justice priority [6].

In our study, we addressed the following questions: a) Does fungal biomass, diversity, or community composition, differ between units with visible mold, units with no visible mold, and the outdoors? b) What taxa dominate units with visible mold? C) Do fungi forming visible colonies on surfaces become airborne and contribute to the indoor air microbiome?

The features that combine to make our study unique in the field of indoor air microbiology include: (1) simultaneous collection indoors and outdoors of fungi passively settling on sterile surfaces over a defined period long enough to account for daily and weekly variation in fungal abundance and occupant behavior. (2) Sampling 21 units within one water-damaged building in residences both with and without visible mold colonies. (3) Culture independent characterization of fungal communities by high-throughput DNA sequencing. (4) Analytical treatment of microbial DNA sequence reads as a compositional dataset rather than the standard statistical treatment of rarefied read counts.

This study is the first to analyze the microbial inhabitants of a condemned building using high-throughput sequencing methods. This is also one of only a handful of studies to use culture-independent techniques to explore the impact of water-damage on microbial communities in buildings. The distinction between outdoor microbial communities, units with no visible mold, and units with visible mold, shows that insufficient building maintenance can drastically shift the assemblage of fungi indoors.




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