Scientists dissected dust bunnies from across the country and found some interesting patterns; their work will help allergy sufferers and forensic scientists
The dust that accumulates in the corners of your house does more than just cause allergies and aggravation—it’s also teeming with clues about where you live and who you live with.
This is Scientific American’s 60-Second Science. I’m Erika Beras. Got a minute?
That’s the finding of a study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. [Albert Barberán et al, The ecology of microscopic life in household dust]
Researchers had volunteers at nearly 1,200 homes across the U.S. collected indoor and outdoor dust samples. The average home’s dust contains about 5,000 types of bacteria and 2,000 types of fungi.
The fungi gave away a lot about a home’s location. Different regions have different fungal populations, and thus so do houses within those regions. For example, dwellings around the Great Lakes had very different fungi than did homes in Arizona—because most household fungi originate outside and come in either on people’s clothes or through windows and doors.
As for the bacteria, those were strong indicators of the identity of the home’s residents. Much of the bacteria was shed by the human body and was a pretty good indicator of a home’s gender ratio. The single-celled organisms also showed whether a pet shared the home—cats and dogs make their own contributions to the indoor bacterial menagerie.
The research could inform forensic investigations and allergy studies.
In the meantime what can we take from these findings? Well, you can clean up dust but you can’t change its composition. That is, unless you move. Or make some changes in the pets and people you live with.
Thanks for the minute! For Scientific American’s 60-Second Science, I’m Erika Beras.
—Erika Beras, Benjamin Meyers
[The above text is a transcript of this video.]
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Executive Producer: Eliene Augenbraun
Producer: Benjamin Meyers
Writer and Narrator: Erika Beras
Audio Editor and Engineer: Steve Mirsky
Stock Footage: iStock.com, VideoBlocks
Special Thanks: Albert Barberán, University of Colorado; USDA / Eric Erbe / Christopher Pooley; CDC / Dr. Lucille K. Georg