With antibiotic-resistant bacteria becoming an increasingly global threat, excessive cleaning could be exacerbating the problem.
A research team from the Institute of Environmental Biotechnology at TU Graz has compared the microbiome and the resistome—the collection of all the antibiotic resistance genes—of rooms that are kept extremely clean, such as intensive care units and spacecraft assembly cleanroom facilities, with naturally unrestricted buildings, such as people’s homes or workplaces, that are influenced by the surrounding outdoor environment.
In the study, they found that the microbiome of the highly-maintained environments had a different resistome when compared to other environments. These highly-maintained environments also had a higher diversity in resistance genes.
The researchers used state-of-the-art metagenomics approaches with genome and plasmid reconstruction and found that increased confinement and cleaning was associated with a loss of microbial diversity and a shift from Gram-positive bacteria like Actinobacteria and Firmicutes that are more receptive to certain cell wall targeting antiobtics, to Gram-negative such as Proteobacteria, which are less receptive.
Microbial diversity decreased in the areas of high levels of microbial controls, while the diversity of resistances increased.
“In environments with strong microbial control in the intensive care unit and industrially used clean rooms, there are increasing antibiotic resistances which show a high potential for combining with pathogens,” Alexander Mahnert, director of studies at the Institute of Environmental Biotechnology of TU Graz, who is currently conducting research at the Medical University of Graz, said in a statement.
The study also showed that a stable microbial diversity in clinical areas counteracted the spread of resistance.
“The microbial control of pathogens is already being successfully used in cultivated plants and also in humans in the framework of stool transplantation,” Gabriele Berg, who heads the Institute of Environmental Biotechnology at TU Graz, said in a statement. “Our study provides an initial foundation to pursue such ideas in indoor areas in the future.”
The researchers pinpointed various initial steps in maintaining and improving microbial diversity, including regular airing, houseplants, the deliberate use of useful microorganisms and the reduction of antibacterial cleaning agents.
The team also plans on developing and implementing biotechnological solutions for tailor-made microbial diversity.
In recent years, the threat of antimicrobial resistance has grown to be a public health crisis, with the number of people falling ill and dying from antibiotic-resistant germs increasing worldwide.
Much of the recent research has been focused on the environmental antimicrobial resistance, especially in livestock farming, wastewater treatment, and in hospital settings, but not other locations like the home and workplaces.
The study was published in Nature Communications.