PreMiEr Test Beds

The “built environment” is incredibly diverse, including not only homes and workplaces, but also vehicles, shopping malls, entertainment complexes, hospitals, and even the International Space Station! Even within the same type of structure, for example residences, there can be significant differences in how those homes are constructed, what materials were used, whether or not HVAC systems are installed, exposure to the outdoors, differing climates, and myriad other factors that can influence the associated microbiomes.

PreMiEr test beds present a variety of opportunities for our researchers to test their hypotheses, collect samples, and deploy technologies for engineering built environment microbiomes and determining interactions with human-associated microbiomes. Recognizing that no single test bed, or even handful of test beds could possibly model the diversity of built environments, our testbeds were carefully selected to represent a range of values for researcher control, pathogen burden, and representation of real-world conditions.

Environmental Chambers

Constructed chambers in the labs of Drs. Barbara Turpin and Joe Brown at UNC-CH provide the simplest testbed for PreMiEr researchers.  The conditions within these systems can be tightly controlled and instruments can directly measure a number of variables inside the chamber. This test bed is optimal for exploring the viability and proliferation of microbes on surfaces or delivered via certain methods (e.g., aerosols), but is poorly representative of a more complex “real-world” built environment.

Artificial Gut

The interaction of built environment microbiomes with human microbiomes can be tested in PreMiEr’s artificial gut test bed, located in the laboratory of Dr. Lawrence David at Duke University. This complex and controlled system inoculated with actual fecal material can simulate the human gut environment, allowing researchers to examine how microbes and metabolites identified by PreMiEr research thrusts might impact the human microbiome in a long-term, controlled, reproducible system.

PreMiEr Home @ Duke

The PreMiEr Home @ Duke, located on Duke University’s West Campus, built in 1932 was formerly a home to Duke faculty. Used by several organizations on campus for office space, this 4400 square foot residence of 3 stories (including a basement), 4 bedrooms, a kitchen, 4 bathrooms, and several living areas now serves as a PreMiEr test bed for examining the microbiomes of residences of this type.


One of the PreMiEr test beds most representative of the “real world” is found within Duke University Hospitals. Renowned for their excellent medical care, these buildings will also serve PreMiEr as study sites that carry both a high level of control but also a potentially localized high pathogen burden.  This test beds will be especially important for analyzing the spread of antimicrobial resistance and evaluating methods of preventing transmission of pathogens within a built environment.

PreMiEr Communities

The final of PreMiEr’s test beds can be found internationally in the South American country of Bolivia and domestically in rural and urban communities in North Carolina. Structures and homes in Bolivia often look and operate quite differently than those in the United States with different drivers for microbial diversity, providing opportunities to study built environment microbiomes under a wider variety of “real world” conditions. Communities in North Carolina, representing coastal homes in low-lying areas susceptible to flooding and historically redlined communities in Greensboro, NC, present other lcations in this test bed where PreMiEr researchers and the residental stakeholders can work collaboratively to study the built environment.