Household air pollution and the lung microbiome of healthy adults in Malawi: a cross-sectional study

Jamie Rylance, Anstead Kankwatira, David E. Nelson, Evelyn Toh, Richard B. Day, Huaiying Lin, Xiang Gao, Qunfeng Dong, Erica Sodergren, George M. Weinstock, Robert S. Heyderman, Homer L. Twigg, Stephen B. Gordon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

14 Scopus citations


Background: Domestic combustion of biomass fuels, such as wood, charcoal, crop residue and dung causes Household Air Pollution (HAP). These inhaled particulates affect more than half of the world’s population, causing respiratory problems such as infection and inflammatory lung disease. We examined whether the presence of black carbon in alveolar macrophages was associated with alterations in the lung microbiome in a Malawi population. Methods: Bronchoalveolar lavage samples from 44 healthy adults were sequenced using 16S rDNA amplification to assess microbial diversity, richness and relative taxa abundance. Individuals were classified as high or low particulate exposure as determined by questionnaire and the percentage of black carbon within their alveolar macrophages. Results: Subjects in the low and high particulate groups did not differ in terms of source of fuels used for cooking or lighting. There was no difference in alpha or beta diversity by particulate group. Neisseria and Streptococcus were significantly more abundant in samples from high particulate exposed individuals, and Tropheryma was found less abundant. Petrobacter abundance was higher in people using biomass fuel for household cooking and lighting, compared with exclusive use of electricity. Conclusions: Healthy adults in Malawi exposed to higher levels of particulates have higher abundances of potentially pathogenic bacteria (Streptococcus, Neisseria) within their lung microbiome. Domestic biomass fuel use was associated with an uncommon environmental bacterium (Petrobacter) associated with oil-rich niches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number182
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalBMC Microbiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2016


  • Alveolar macrophage
  • Household air pollution
  • Petrobacter
  • Respiratory microbiome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)

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    Rylance, J., Kankwatira, A., Nelson, D. E., Toh, E., Day, R. B., Lin, H., Gao, X., Dong, Q., Sodergren, E., Weinstock, G. M., Heyderman, R. S., Twigg, H. L., & Gordon, S. B. (2016). Household air pollution and the lung microbiome of healthy adults in Malawi: a cross-sectional study. BMC Microbiology, 16(1), 1-7. [182].