Eastman Dental Institute


Novel approach to reducing the spread of antimicrobial resistance in the built environment

Richard Beckett and  Dr Sean Nair

NOTBAD is an interdisciplinary research project that brings together a team with expertise in architecture, microbiology and antimicrobial resistance. The project is exploring a novel approach towards preventing the spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in the built environment by reversing the notion of sterilisation and encouraging the growth of other benign and/or beneficial microbes that serve to outcompete AMR microbes.

The medical community understands that not all microbes are bad and that certain microbes play a beneficial role within the body in relation to our health and immune development. It is evident that overprescribing antibiotics can lead to the killing of benign and/or beneficial microbes within the body removing competition and thereby allowing antimicrobial resistant microbes to proliferate or colonise the body.

Analogically, these principles are true of microbes within buildings – the so called built environment microbiome. However, to date, a similar shift in opinion has not occurred amongst architects and designers where a preference for cleanliness still drives a 'kill-all' mentality towards the presence of microbes in buildings. This project is investigating an alternative, pro-microbial design paradigm for a living architecture that purposely grows benign bacteria within the building walls and surfaces that serve to prevent the spread of antimicrobial resistant pathogens via mechanisms of bacterial competition.

Activities and results

During the project we are undertaking iterative design research alongside scientific methodologies to explore the feasibility, requirements, environmental niches and aesthetics for growing beneficial bacteria in buildings. To date we have developed building materials with a living bacterial component. 

The image (top right) shows scanning electron micrographs of two different building materials that have living bacteria within the material. We have found that this living building material is able to inhibit the growth of MRSA. Introducing a disc of the living building material to a nutrient agar contaminated with MRSA leads to an area of clearing around the living building material where the MRSA does not grow.

Next steps

We have demonstrated that we can integrate beneficial microbes into building materials and that these living materials are able to prevent colonisation and growth of antimicrobial resistant pathogens. In the future these living building materials could be used to prevent the spread of antimicrobial pathogens. 

Current/future work: We are currently doing research to determine if we can improve on the current findings by integrating different beneficial microbes into building materials and then buildings in such a way as to encourage positive health benefits and discourage potential aesthetic or cultural objections that building occupants, users and designers might have.