Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Molecular profiling of fungal communities in moisture damaged buildings before and after remediation - a comparison of culture-dependent and culture-independent methods

Miia Pitkäranta1*, Teija Meklin23, Anne Hyvärinen2, Aino Nevalainen2, Lars Paulin1, Petri Auvinen1, Ulla Lignell2 and Helena Rintala23

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki, Viikinkaari 4, 00790 Helsinki, Finland

2 Department of Environmental Health, National Institute for Health and Welfare, Neulaniementie 4, 70701 Kuopio, Finland

3 Mikrobioni Inc., P.O. Box 1188, 70211 Kuopio, Finland

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BMC Microbiology 2011, 11:235  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-11-235

Published: 21 October 2011



Indoor microbial contamination due to excess moisture is an important contributor to human illness in both residential and occupational settings. However, the census of microorganisms in the indoor environment is limited by the use of selective, culture-based detection techniques. By using clone library sequencing of full-length internal transcribed spacer region combined with quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) for 69 fungal species or assay groups and cultivation, we have been able to generate a more comprehensive description of the total indoor mycoflora. Using this suite of methods, we assessed the impact of moisture damage on the fungal community composition of settled dust and building material samples (n = 8 and 16, correspondingly). Water-damaged buildings (n = 2) were examined pre- and post- remediation, and compared with undamaged reference buildings (n = 2).


Culture-dependent and independent methods were consistent in the dominant fungal taxa in dust, but sequencing revealed a five to ten times higher diversity at the genus level than culture or qPCR. Previously unknown, verified fungal phylotypes were detected in dust, accounting for 12% of all diversity. Fungal diversity, especially within classes Dothideomycetes and Agaricomycetes tended to be higher in the water damaged buildings. Fungal phylotypes detected in building materials were present in dust samples, but their proportion of total fungi was similar for damaged and reference buildings. The quantitative correlation between clone library phylotype frequencies and qPCR counts was moderate (r = 0.59, p < 0.01).


We examined a small number of target buildings and found indications of elevated fungal diversity associated with water damage. Some of the fungi in dust were attributable to building growth, but more information on the material-associated communities is needed in order to understand the dynamics of microbial communities between building structures and dust. The sequencing-based method proved indispensable for describing the true fungal diversity in indoor environments. However, making conclusions concerning the effect of building conditions on building mycobiota using this methodology was complicated by the wide natural diversity in the dust samples, the incomplete knowledge of material-associated fungi fungi and the semiquantitative nature of sequencing based methods.