Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

Microbiology of the Built Environment

People average 23 hours a day indoors where we breathe and come in contact with trillions of microorganisms—tiny life forms invisible to the naked eye. Human beings ourselves are composted of ten times as many microbial cells as human cells and we are constantly shedding, acquiring and indeed sharing microbes.

Historically environmental research and policy have focused on natural or urban outdoor environments. Little is known about the complex microbial ecosystems found in the built environment. The goal of the Microbiology of the Built Environment program is to grow a new field of scientific inquiry.

Over the next five years, Sloan's objectives are as follows:

  1. To push the research frontier including the development of standardized techniques and protocols, and to educate a small leadership cohort through a multidisciplinary university-based Biology and the Built Environment Center at the University of Oregon, led by Jessica Green, Brendan Bohannan, and Charlie Brown.
  2. To build a national, multidisciplinary community by establishing a network of scientists, engineers, and architects working on these issues through the Microbiology of the Built Environment Network at the University of California, Davis, led by Jonathan Eisen.
  3. To improve the cohesiveness of the community and its ability to communicate internally and externally by developing data visualization and imaging techniques and repositories through a consortium of four institutions: University of Chicago (Folker Meyer), Marine Biological Laboratory(Mitch Sogin), University of Colorado(Rob Knight), and University of California, Riverside(Jason Stajich).  
  4. To demonstrate the excitement and value of the field by supporting a small number of research targets of opportunity.
  5. To convince traditional U.S. government funding agencies to include research on the built environment in their research plans by developing a compelling, widely accepted research agenda.

For a complete list of Sloan grants in this program area, see

Program Director:
Paula Olsiewski Bio