Discover magazine sent me on a great assignment last year: Delve into the emerging science of indoor microbiology. Exploring the great indoors was a little like going on that old Disneyland ride, Journey Through Inner Space ("I am passing beyond the magnification limits of even the most powerful microscopes. These are snowflakes – and yet they seem to grow larger and larger. Or can I be shrinking – shrinking beyond the smallness of a tiny snowflake crystal? Indeed, I am becoming smaller and smaller!").* A handful of scientists are on the cutting edge of this field, and they're doing fascinating work: Norman Pace at the University of Colorado, Jonathan Eisen at UC-Santa Cruz, and Jessica Green at the University of Oregon. Pace's work on shower curtains and showerheads led me to unscrew the showerheads in my own house and give them a thorough cleaning. Green's work, at the U of O's Biology and the Built Environment lab (BioBE), looks at the microbial ecosystem of hospitals, and asks whether it's better to encourage a high diversity of microbial species in hospitals, rather than continue the current kill-'em-all strategy which seems to be doing nothing but opening ecological niches for staph infections to flourish. Discover recently posted the full article online here, and you can also follow the day-to-day goings on in this field through Eisen's "Tree of Life" blog, one of the great undiscovered science blogs out there today.
*Will anyone besides my sister Allison get this reference? I don't care. I loved that ride. Especially that giant eyeball looking at you through the other end of the microscope.