Microbial diversity of extreme habitats in human homes

Amy M. Savage, Justin Hills, Katherine Driscoll, Daniel J. Fergus, Amy M. Grunden, Robert R. Dunn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


High-throughput sequencing techniques have opened up the world of microbial diversity to scientists, and a flurry of studies in the most remote and extreme habitats on earth have begun to elucidate the key roles of microbes in ecosystems with extreme conditions. These same environmental extremes can also be found closer to humans, even in our homes. Here, we used high-throughput sequencing techniques to assess bacterial and archaeal diversity in the extreme environments inside human homes (e.g., dishwashers, hot water heaters, washing machine bleach reservoirs, etc.). We focused on habitats in the home with extreme temperature, pH, and chemical environmental conditions. We found a lower diversity of microbes in these extreme home environ- ments compared to less extreme habitats in the home. However, we were nonetheless able to detect sequences from a relatively diverse array of bacteria and archaea. Habitats with extreme temperatures alone appeared to be able to support a greater diversity of microbes than habitats with extreme pH or extreme chemical environments alone. Microbial diversity was lowest when habitats had both extreme temperature and one of these other extremes. In habitats with both extreme temperatures and extreme pH, taxa with known associations with extreme conditions dominated. Our findings highlight the importance of examining interactive effects of multiple environmental extremes on microbial communities. Inasmuch as taxa from extreme environments can be both beneficial and harmful to humans, our findings also suggest future work to understand both the threats and opportunities posed by the life in these habitats.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2376
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


  • Chemical
  • Community ecology
  • Extreme environments
  • Human Homes
  • Interactive effects
  • Microbial diversity
  • PH
  • Temperature


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