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New Microbiome Health Research Puts the ‘Cell’ Back in Cell Phone

Jun 24, 2014, 12:13 PM, Posted by Deborah Bae

WNH Jessica Green infographic

What’s Next Health guest Jessica Green, founding director of the BioBE (Biology and the Built Environment Center), visited RWJF last year to discuss the health implications of the microbiome—the invisible collection of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and archaea that live on, in and all around us. Watch Jessica’s What's Next Health interview to learn more about microbiomes in the built environment and how that knowledge can be used to design spaces and buildings to create a healthier, more sustainable world.

During her visit, Jessica led an educational workshop where staff swabbed their fingers and mobile phones to learn about the relationship between the microscopic communities living on both. The findings from that educational workshop turned out to be quite interesting, and ultimately led to a study published today in the journal PeerJ. Senior Program Officer Deborah Bae caught up with Jessica to learn more about her research.

Deborah: When we hear the term microbe, many of us think about germs that cause disease. So what is the microbiome, and why is it important in promoting health?

Jessica: Twenty years ago, when I was an environmental engineering student, I learned that microbes were pollutants or contaminants, and were something that you wanted to eliminate, particularly in the indoor environment. And we know from history that being in a very unclean, unsanitary environment kills people. What we’ve learned more recently is that for every human cell, we have up to ten bacterial cells and even more viruses living on the human body. There's a rising consensus that aspects of this microbiome can be beneficial to human health. Some of these microorganisms help our immune system function, ward off pathogens and infections, and microbes in our gut may be even linked to the way that we think and feel.

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What’s Next Health: Microbiomes Where we Live, Work, Learn and Play

Sep 4, 2013, 12:30 PM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

Jessica Green

Each month, What’s Next Health talks with leading thinkers about the future of health and health care. Recently, we talked with Jessica Green, founding director of the BioBE (Biology and the Built Environment Center), to explore how a better understanding of the microbiome in our built environment might lead to healthier buildings and healthier lives.

By Jessica Green

We’ve known for some time about the invisible microbes in us and around us—small organisms including viruses, bacteria and fungi. There was a time when most believed that these microbes were all bad for us. After all, they were the ones responsible for getting us sick. But now, we know that many microbes are either benign or actually beneficial to us.

As a nuclear engineer, I had experience modeling things I couldn’t see. When I learned people were modeling biological systems showing how microbes interact with each other—systems we know as microbiomes—and using big data to understand them and how they affect us, I was immediately intrigued. When I thought about microbes in the context of my interest in conservation and biodiversity, I became hooked. And I am not alone. This is a rapidly growing field and through our collective work, we have been learning more and more about the potential of microbiomes to be agents of health, especially in their work to support vital functions in and on the body. Now we are also starting to examine and rethink how microbes move among us and our surroundings and what this means for how we design our built environments.

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