science | June 04, 2013

We Can't Keep Microbes Out: Jessica Green On The New Era Of Design

You can't see it, but there's a diverse ecosystem of microbes sharing your office with you. In fact, as science speaker Jessica Green says in a Smart Planet article, "in the place where we spend 90 percent of our lives—indoors—there’s as great a diversity as you would see in a tropical rainforest." These microbial ecosystems are an essential part of understanding our health—and who we are as people. "It’s important to understand indoor ecosystems because they’re our primary habitat," Green says, "They’re where we’re picking up some of the microbes that live in and on us." Green and her team have been investigating the way that these microbial ecosystems work, and how different building designs influence our relationship with them.

She believes that smarter building design could actually help us solve some of our biggest health concerns. While years of design conspired to keep the outdoors out, Green says we need a new way of thinking. "The concept of keeping microbes out is outdated. The new way of thinking is: We know there are going to be microbes colonizing the indoor environment, unless you’re in a controlled environment like an operating room," she tells Smart Planet. "If the indoor environment is going to be colonized by microbes, what kind of microbes do we want to be colonized with?" We can't prevent outdoor microbes from getting in. Instead, Green says we need to work with the microbes around us, instead of against them.

Green is a Senior TED Fellow, a Professor at both the University of Oregon and the Santa Fe Institute, and Director of the Biology and the Built Environment (BioBE) Center. She uses unique methods of exploring the fascinating ecosystems that surround us—even though we can't see them. Her work attempts to describe the complex microbes that make us who we are, so that we can design our lives to make us happier and healthier. In her talks, she shares her intriguing research and urges us to not only be alert to the things we can see, but also those we can't.

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