The Basics: We need your help. We are organizing the first working group aimed at understanding the evolutionary biology of the built environment—our bedrooms, our houses, our backyards and our cities. This working group will occur June 10 – 14, 2013, in Durham, North Carolina. We are now inviting applications for participants in the working group.

Why: As recently as one hundred thousand years ago the indoor environment did not exist. Yet, this is now where most humans spend the majority of their life. One might imagine that in its relatively short history the built environment might have had time to accumulate very few species. Far from the case, an emerging body of literature shows that hundreds of multicellular species and thousands of unicellular species can be found in houses and buildings more generally. Among the species found in homes are those whose presence (or absence) is likely to have a large impact on human health and well-being, species including beneficial microbiota on the body but also pathogens and potential pathogens or toxic species such as extremophilic fungi. Yet, with the exception of a few deadly pathogens (such as MRSA), the evolutionary history of most of the species with which we most intimately interact in our homes remains unknown. To remedy our lack of knowledge and take advantage of recent advances in disparate fields we will bring together scientists studying both the fauna (microbiologists, entomologists, mammalogists, and any other -ologists you can convince us have some bearing on house biomes) and environment (engineers, architects) along with social scientists (anthropologists) and evolutionary biologists (e.g. theoreticians, bioinformaticians, geneticists) to begin to build a framework for the evolution of the indoor and more generally built biome. Our goal is to develop a framework for a comprehensive understanding of the evolution of the species we most intimately interact with, particularly in the context of considering how to build and design our environments so as to favor beneficial (rather than dangerous) evolutionary trajectories. We aim to understand both how to prevent the extinction of beneficial species and to favor the evolution of lineages and species with beneficial attributes, whether those be ecological functions, health benefits or simply aesthetic value.

Who: We’d like to convene a diverse group of scientists and practitioners at various stages in their careers, from graduate students and post-docs to senior scientists, representing an array of disciplines including the organismal -ologies (e.g. microbiology, entomology, etc.), engineering, architecture, anthropology, evolution, genetics, bioinformatics, art and design. We want to be inclusive of any field that you can convince us has something to bear on studying evolution in the built environment.

How: We are currently accepting applications to be part of this working group. If you are interested, you can apply online apply online here, but do so soon. We will select a group of 30 scholars and practitioners from the applicant pool who will meet in Durham with the goal of producing a series of general audience and peer-reviewed publications about the evolutionary biology of the built environment.

Sponsored by a partnership between the Sloan Foundation and the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center.

Project Leaders: Jonathan Eisen, Rob Dunn, Kerry Kinney and Craig McClain

Have questions? Drop us a note at