Peace, serenity and microbial transfer

Urban green spaces_low res

This much we know: biodiverse urban green spaces are good for us. Research has shown that people regularly exposed to them feel better, exercise more, and have lower rates of disease; while those in areas experiencing biodiversity loss—a common symptom of urbanisation—appear to exhibit declining health.

Consequently, biodiverse urban green spaces are a well accepted component of modern Smart Cities. Less clear, however, are the reasons why they’re so beneficial. But ongoing research at the University of Adelaide promises to shed significant new light on the subject.

A research team from the University’s School of Biological Sciences is investigating the possibility that a diverse bacterial community, or ‘microbiome’, in urban green spaces can prime people’s immune systems with beneficial bacteria. According to lead researcher Dr Martin Breed, an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow, the preliminary results appear to support the idea.

“We collected a variety of samples for comparison, such as soil, air and leaves, from different urban green space types in Bournemouth (England), New Delhi (India) and the City of Playford in northern Adelaide,” says Dr Breed.

“We also collected skin and nose swabs from volunteers who frequented each area and assessed the transfer of microbes.”

The urban green spaces sampled, all within city limits, included bare ground, lawn, lawn with trees, restored areas, and wild remnant vegetation, with the team’s initial analysis appearing to verify the microbial value of each.

“Our findings to date show great microbial diversity in all environments, but the more diverse the vegetation, the wilder and more natural the microbiome.”

Dr Breed says he and his colleagues have also been excited by early results of multiple species of beneficial bacteria present in soils also appearing on the urban green space users’ skin and nose samples.

“These results suggest we can not only establish a thriving natural microbial community in urban green spaces, but that people interacting with those spaces can get the microbiome benefits from them.”

The team’s analysis is continuing.

Related links:
Smart Cities
School of Biological Sciences
Dr Martin Breed profile