Cover of Keith Seifert's book Hidden Kingdom of Fungi

“The Secret House: Fungi in the Built Environment” with…

Presented by Keith Seifert
Department of Biology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1S 5B6

November 14, 2022

Watch the Recording on YouTube

We often overlook the built environment as a biological system, partly because we design our shelters to protect us from the climate and competing organisms. Houses and other buildings contain several sub-environments, which vary from location to location. The outer walls and roof, the wooden or metal skeletons that support the structures, the interior surfaces and flooring each have their own distinct mycota. Material introduced into the house, like furniture, bedding, houseplants, food, compost, and human, pet and rodent inhabitants also carry fungi that might become resident. Most parts of the house are like a desert and play host to xerophiles, fungi that do not require much moisture. Symbioses occur between some xerophilic moulds and dust mites (and possibly some insects). The abundant moisture and higher humidity of kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms are like tropical rain forests. Although many of the species are benign, understanding the biology of the fungi in a building is critical. The health of occupants can be affected by fungal spores, β-glucan containing hyphal fragments, or volatile organic compounds that cause allergies or asthma, especially in children. Fungal populations may change dramatically if plumbing systems leak, and spores can be distributed widely by air handling systems. This can have serious consequences in public or multiple dwelling buildings. Studies of indoor microbiomes are relevant to the larger topics of island biogeography and urban biology. In addition, events that concern us on a planetary scale, such as the phenomenon of invasive species, sometimes also occur in the built environment. However, its direct relevance to human health suggests the ecology of buildings deserves much more study.

Keith Seifert is the author of the recent book The Hidden Kingdom of Fungi, which takes readers on a fantastic voyage through the world of microscopic fungi. He spent his career as a Research Scientist for Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada in Ottawa as a mycologist specializing in the identification and classification of microscopic fungi that produce toxins in crops and foods. His academic publications include more than 250 scientific papers and six books. From 2014-2018, he was the President of the International Mycological Association, was the chair of the International Commission on the Taxonomy of Fungi, and was an executive editor of the scientific journal Mycologia. He retired in 2019 and is now an adjunct professor at Carleton University in Ottawa. As a writer and speaker, Keith combines humour and philosophy to explore the interactions between science, the humanities, history and society. The stories in his book show the positive and negative effects of fungi on our forests, farms, food and drink, homes, bodies and human economic activities.

If you have any questions, please direct them to Illinois Mycological Association