Wild Life of Our Homes FAQs
Why has it taken so long to return my results?
Our science is slow. We’re a team of humans, not robots, sequencing and analyzing your data. We have completed sequencing for all inner and outer doorframe samples. Here’s a log of data uploads to date:
19 August 2015: 1408 inner, 1395 outer9 June 2014: 1000 inner, 1000 outer samplesKeep in mind that in every sequencing batch, we may fail to get good quality DNA from some samples. This happens from time to time when we process a lot of samples. Another reason you may not see your data is because unfortunately, we failed to get microbial DNA from one (or more) of your samples. We’re as bummed as you are when this happens. Typically, 95% of samples work. Sometimes that number can dip lower. This is no solace for the 5%, but it does mean that even if one of your samples doesn’t work, the odds are still that one or more of the others will.
Where can I go see my results?
You can also visually explore microbial data (and find results for your home by searching for your unique Confirmation Code) using the online data visualization tool, Phinch.
What does it mean when a microbial family has an environmental source that is ‘Unclassified’?
If a particular microbial family is designated ‘Unclassified,’ it means that we either 1) know too little about this group of microbes to know where they might have come from or 2) the microbes within this particular family are found in so many different places that we are unable to confidently assign it one specific source.
Can you remind me where these data came from?
Here’s an explainer for the technical steps we took to derive microbial data from the swabs you sent to us.
Can I see the raw data files?
We are excited that some folks might like to dive a little deeper into their microbial data. We have made both sequence (bacteria and archaea, fungi) and de-identified sample metadata freely available in the Figshare data repository, http://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.1270900.
What are you doing with all that data we submitted in the participant questionnaire?
We will be using the information you provided about your home’s location, its occupants, its design features and your cleaning habits to help us explain some of the patterns of biodiversity we observe in home microbes across North America. Right now we have a team of statisticians working hard to explain and interpret these patterns. Stay tuned to homes.yourwildlife.org for stories about these results. As of today (literally today) we have found a strong effect of cats on indoor microbes, age of home and then also outdoor climate. But more will follow. We literally have to study the distribution of each of more than a hundred thousand species to figure out these stories.
Where can I learn more information about the microbes in my house?
We recommend you check out our Invisible Life project for essays by top-notch science writers about some of the most common microbial species found on our bodies and in our homes.
Are you looking for any other kinds of “wild life” in my sample besides bacteria and archaea?
In addition to the bacteria and archaea, we are looking at the fungi and arthropods living in our homes. We use similar molecular techniques to those we used for the bacteria/archaea, except that we sequence different “species identification” genes, ITS1 region for the fungi and part of the CO1 gene for arthropods.
How long will it take to finish this study?
We imagine that it will take at least ten years to fully study the data we already have in hand. And as we understand more, we will tell you more. Soon, we will know how your home compares to the nest of a chimpanzee in terms of microbes. We’ll know about the fungi in addition to the bacteria and archaea. We’ll know more each month and year and as we do we’ll tell you more.
A list of microbes is, after all, just a beginning, a beginning of a long story in which you will continue to play a part. It is tempting to leap to early conclusions in light of the data we already have in hand. Most news stories about the microbiome do, but the truth is we are trying to understand an ecosystem as diverse in terms of microbes as the entire world is in terms of birds. The resolution will be complex, but it is the complexity of an orchestra, an awesome complexity of trillions of individual cells communicating with each other, singing songs we have just begun to understand, songs that, yes, are relevant to health and well-being, but just how, we really don’t know. Yet.