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Microbes and associated soluble and volatile chemicals on periodically wet household surfaces.



Microorganisms influence the chemical milieu of their environment, and chemical metabolites can affect ecological processes. In built environments, where people spend the majority of their time, very little is known about how surface-borne microorganisms influence the chemistry of the indoor spaces. Here, we applied multidisciplinary approaches to investigate aspects of chemical microbiology in a house.


We characterized the microbial and chemical composition of two common and frequently wet surfaces in a residential setting: kitchen sink and bathroom shower. Microbial communities were studied using culture-dependent and independent techniques, including targeting RNA for amplicon sequencing. Volatile and soluble chemicals from paired samples were analyzed using state-of-the-art techniques to explore the links between the observed microbiota and chemical exudates.


Microbial analysis revealed a rich biological presence on the surfaces exposed in kitchen sinks and bathroom shower stalls. Microbial composition, matched for DNA and RNA targets, varied by surface type and sampling period. Bacteria were found to have an average of 25× more gene copies than fungi. Biomass estimates based on qPCR were well correlated with measured total volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions. Abundant VOCs included products associated with fatty acid production. Molecular networking revealed a diversity of surface-borne compounds that likely originate from microbes and from household products.


Microbes played a role in structuring the chemical profiles on and emitted from kitchen sinks and shower stalls. Microbial VOCs (mVOCs) were predominately associated with the processing of fatty acids. The mVOC composition may be more stable than that of microbial communities, which can show temporal and spatial variation in their responses to changing environmental conditions. The mVOC output from microbial metabolism on kitchen sinks and bathroom showers should be apparent through careful measurement, even against a broader background of VOCs in homes, some of which may originate from microbes in other locations within the home. A deeper understanding of the chemical interactions between microbes on household surfaces will require experimentation under relevant environmental conditions, with a finer temporal resolution, to build on the observational study results presented here.

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