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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Altered microbiomes in thirdhand smoke-exposed children and their home environments.



Tobacco smoke contains numerous toxic chemicals that accumulate in indoor environments creating thirdhand smoke (THS). We investigated if THS-polluted homes differed in children's human and built-environment microbiomes as compared to THS-free homes.


Participants were n = 19 THS-exposed children and n = 10 unexposed children (≤5 years) and their caregivers. Environmental and biological samples were analyzed for THS pollutants and exposure. Swab samples were collected from the built-environment (floor, table, armrest, bed frame) and child (finger, nose, mouth, and ear canal), and 16S ribosomal RNA genes were analyzed for bacterial taxa using high-throughput DNA sequencing.


Phylogenetic α-diversity was significantly higher for the built-environment microbiomes in THS-polluted homes compared to THS-free homes (p < 0.014). Log2-fold comparison found differences between THS-polluted and THS-free homes for specific genera in samples from the built-environment (e.g., Acinetobacter, Bradyrhizobium, Corynebacterium, Gemella, Neisseria, Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and Veillonella) and in samples from children (esp. Corynebacterium, Gemella, Lautropia, Neisseria, Rothia, Staphylococcus, and Veillonella).


When exposed to THS, indoor and children microbiomes are altered in an environment-specific manner. Changes are similar to those reported in previous studies for smokers and secondhand smoke-exposed persons. THS-induced changes in child and built-environmental microbiomes may play a role in clinical outcomes in children.


Despite smoking bans, children can be exposed to tobacco smoke residue (i.e., thirdhand smoke) that lingers on surfaces and in settled house dust. Thirdhand smoke exposure is associated with changes in the microbiomes of the home environment and of the children living in these homes. Thirdhand smoke is associated with increased phylogenetic diversity of the home environment and changes in the abundances of several genera of the child microbiome known to be affected by active smoking and secondhand smoke (e.g., Corynebacterium, Staphylococcus, Streptococcus). Thirdhand smoke exposure by itself may induce alterations in the microbiome that play a role in childhood pathologies.

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