Are bacteria in shopping malls a beacon for disease outbreaks?

Nov 14, 2008

Tringe SG, T Zhang, X Liu, Y Yu, WH Lee, J Yap, F Yao, ST Suan, SK Ing, M Haynes, F Rohwer, CL Wei, P Tan, J Bristow, EM Rubin and Y Ruan. 2008. The airborne metagenome in an indoor urban environment. PLoS ONE 3(4) e1862.

Synopsis by Niladri Basu

A new method to monitor indoor air for harmful bacteria can help prevent major disease outbreaks.

Bacteria are constantly moving between indoor air and people.  Based on this knowledge, a new method of identifying airborne bacteria offers a way to determine whether people have been exposed and a new tool to control disease outbreaks and epidemics.

Identifying exposed people is important to control disease outbreaks and epidemics. This new approach identifies the genes of airborne bacteria, making it easier to detect harmful human pathogens in schools, offices, stores and other indoor spaces where people congregate.

While, millions of different kinds of bacteria live outside a typical shopping mall, but this study found that only about 300 kinds of bacteria were inside the two Singapore shopping malls studied. While the outside bacteria come from many diverse sources, the inside bacteria mostly originate from people in the buildings.