The hidden things lurking in sink drains can be dangerous and even deadly: ScienceAlert
Sink drains and plumbing are generally unpleasant places, at least from a human perspective.
However, if you are a fungus, you may feel differently. In fact, this is one of the reasons why we are often averse to sinks – along with dirty sponges and other sink paraphernalia – precisely because they are such great habitats for unsavory microbes.
In a new study by researchers from the University of Reading and the UK Center for Ecology & Hydrology, scientists dug deep into this murky ecosystem, examining more than 250 “Mold Communities in Toilet Sink” on a university campus.
Led by bioinformatician Soon Gweon from the University of Reading, the research team collected samples from sink drains in toilets and P-traps in 20 buildings on the university’s main campus.
The researchers used sterile cotton swabs to collect samples from drains and P-traps, recording details about each sink’s properties, including its location, purpose, gender label for bathrooms, and whether the water flowing down the drain was hot or cold. . By extracting DNA from the samples, they used polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification and bioinformatic processing to help identify the microbial inhabitants of the wells.
The results showed moldy jungles with a diversity of fungi, such as small rain forests in drains.
It might seem obvious that damp places like this would support microbial life, but the mere presence of mold isn’t the main takeaway. These fungal communities are diverse, the researchers report, but also incredibly similar.
The sinks housed 375 genera of fungi – the taxonomic rank above species – from a range of classes, orders and families. The study found fungi representing seven different phyla, the taxonomic rank below the kingdom.
Despite the high biodiversity in each sink, all of the fungal communities showed surprisingly similar taxonomic profiles, the researchers said reportmeaning the lattice and ratio of molds didn’t vary much from sink to sink, or even building to building.
The researchers note that they’re not sure what’s driving this similarity, but pay attention that the similarity in sink molds from different toilets and buildings could reflect “similar use” by people in the community.
All of these sinks are primarily used for hand washing, and many of those who use the facilities are from the wider college population, anyone of whom can be exposed to the microbes when using the sinks.
“We spend 90 percent of our time indoors, so we are exposed to mold in our homes and workplaces,” Gweon say.
“For most people this isn’t a problem, but for those who are immunocompromised, certain types of fungi can cause serious infections.”
The study suggests that sink drains and P-traps are not only happy places for microbes to live, but may also serve as reservoirs for some molds, yeasts and other molds, which may harbor and help spread species that can make people sick.
“It’s not a big surprise to find fungi in a warm, wet environment. But pits and P-traps have so far been overlooked as potential reservoirs of these microorganisms,” Gweon say.
“This could be a very important finding for those trying to help immunocompromised people avoid infections by some of the opportunistic pathogens lurking in sinks, such as Fusarium.”
Sink drains and pipes provide a unique habitat for mold in the built environment, said Gweon and his colleagues Remarkdue to continuous moisture, temporary temperature fluctuations, high pH of detergents and the possible accumulation of organic matter.
However, mold in sinks must also be tough. For example, they face explosions of hot water, plus variable acidity and food availability. Some fungi could use detergents in soap as a carbon-rich food source, the researchers suggest.
The most common and ubiquitous gender found in the new study was Exophilareport the researchers, a “black yeast” that includes terrestrial and aquatic species.
“Exophila species can be considered as opportunistic pathogens causing skin and superficial infections,” they write. These may not generally pose a high risk, but “fatal systemic infections have been documented”.
The study is published in Environmental DNA.
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