Sink drains and plumbing are generally unpleasant places, at least from a human perspective.
If you’re a fungi, you may feel differently. In fact, one of the reasons we so often put off sinks—along with dirty sponges and other sink tools—is precisely because they’re wonderful habitats for unsavory microbes.
In a new study by researchers from the University of Reading and the UK’s Center for Ecology and Hydrology, scientists have taken a deep dive into this mysterious ecosystem, investigating more than 250 “bathroom fungal communities” on a university campus.
Led by University of Reading bioinformatics scientist Soon Guyon, the research team collected samples from septic tanks and restrooms in 20 buildings across the university’s main campus.
The researchers used sterile cotton swabs to collect samples from the drains and P-traps, recording details of the qualities of each basin including its location, purpose, gender marker for the pools, and whether the water flowing into the drain was hot or cold. They extracted DNA from the samples, and used polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification and bioinformatics processing to help identify the microbial organisms in the ponds.
The results showed rotting forests of fungal diversity, such as young rainforests in drains.
It may seem obvious that moist places like this would support microbial life, but the mere presence of fungi is not the key answer. The researchers report that these fungal communities are diverse, but also incredibly similar to one another.
The ponds hosted 375 genera of fungi – taxonomically ranked above species – from a range of classes, orders and families. The study found that fungi represent seven different phyla, a lower taxonomic rank than the Kingdom.
Despite the high biodiversity within each basin, all of the fungal communities showed surprisingly similar taxonomic profiles, the researchers reported, meaning that the list and proportion of fungi did not vary much from one basin to another, or even from one building to another.
The researchers note that they aren’t sure what causes this similarity, but take note That the similarity in cesspool fungi from different restrooms and buildings could reflect “similar use” by those in the community.
All of these basins are mainly used for hand washing, many of those using the facilities benefit from the wider university population, any of whom could be exposed to microbes when using the basins.
“We spend 90 percent of our time indoors, so we’re exposed to fungus in our homes and workplaces,” says Guyon.
“For most people, this isn’t a problem, but for those who are immunocompromised, some fungal species can cause serious infections.”
The study suggests that sink drains and P traps are not only nice places for microbes to live, but they can serve as reservoirs for certain fungi, yeasts, and other fungi, which may harbor and help spread species that can infect humans.
“It’s not surprising to find fungi in a warm, moist environment. But ponds and P-traps have so far been overlooked as potential reservoirs for these microorganisms,” says Gweon.
“This could be a really important finding for those trying to help immunocompromised people avoid infection by certain opportunistic pathogens that may be lurking in ponds, such as fusarium. “
Gwen and colleagues point out that drains and pipes provide a unique habitat for fungi in the built environment, thanks to constant moisture, temporary changes in temperature, high pH from detergents, and potential buildup of organic matter.
Fungi in ponds should also be tough. They face bouts of hot water, for example, as well as changing acidity levels and food availability. The researchers suggest that some fungi may exploit the detergents in soap as a carbon-rich food source.
was the most abundant and ubiquitous genus found in the new study XophilaThe researchers stated that “black yeast” includes both terrestrial and aquatic species.
“Xophila The species may be considered opportunistic pathogens that cause skin and superficial infections,” they write. These species may not generally pose a high risk, but “fatal systemic infections have been documented.”
The study has been published in environmental DNA.
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