Emily Anthes in The New Yorker:
Each bit of dust is a microhistory of your life,” Rob Dunn, a biologist at North Carolina State University, told me recently. For the past four years, Dunn and two of his colleagues—Noah Fierer, a microbial ecologist at the University of Colorado Boulder, and Holly Menninger, the director of public science at N.C. State—have been deciphering these histories, investigating the microorganisms in our dust and how their lives are intertwined with our own.
Most of our microscopic roommates are unlikely to present a real threat; many species of bacteria, scientists now know, are crucial partners in maintaining our health. “We’re surrounded by microbes all the time, and that’s not a bad thing,” Fierer said. In the next phase of their research, he and Dunn hope to identify connections between a home’s microscopic inhabitants and the health of its human ones. And there are likely to be more findings lurking in the dust that the volunteers already collected. How does the use of antimicrobial cleaning products alter a home’s profile? Is there a link between our genomes and the species that occupy our homes? There’s far more data than the scientists can analyze themselves, so they have posted it all online; members of the public can download the complete data set and hunt for new correlations and patterns.