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We know that buildings can make us sick. Take, for example, cases of lead poisoning, mold exposure, or the aptly named Sick Building Syndrome. But can they also make us healthier? Scientists are trying to answer that very question, starting with detailed studies of the microbes that populate our homes and offices. The end goal? Using this information to design structures constructed with bodies in mind.
This is a big shift in how we’ve previously conceptualized microbial life. We’ve long treated bacteria as the enemy. But it turns out that few of the germs we’re constantly trying to kill with hand sanitizer actually cause disease—and the more bacteria we have on the whole, the better. In fact, our habit of ultrasterilization appears to be hurting us. A number of recent studies have lent credence to the so-called “hygiene hypothesis,” which attributes the uptick in autoimmune and allergic diseases, including eczema and asthma, to a lack of early childhood exposure to germs. […]