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Erica Hartmann’s Bio:

Dr. Erica Marie Hartmann is an environmental microbiologist interested in the interaction between human-made chemicals and microbes. Her career began at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where she worked on mass spectrometry-based methods for detecting microbial enzymes necessary for bioremediation. She then moved to Arizona State University where she was the first graduate of the interdisciplinary Biological Design PhD program. She when to France on a Fulbright, studying microbes that degrade carcinogenic pollutants at the Commission for Atomic Energy. She began leading studies antimicrobial chemicals and microbes found in indoor dust at the Biology and the Built Environment Center at the University of Oregon and is currently continuing that work as an assistant professor at Northwestern University.

Assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northwestern University, Erica Maria Hartmann, joins the show to discuss the interesting reactions that occur between antimicrobial chemicals and antimicrobial resistance.

Tune in to discover the following:

  • Why the molecular biological tools being used can lead to the inaccurate detection of microbes that are actually alive, and why this is a problem
  • How common household paints containing antimicrobial agents might affect microbial communities in the environment
  • How exposure to various microbes early on in life might provide a benefit, including lower chances of developing asthma and allergies

Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest global health threats right now, and according to Hartmann, the cleaning products we use, the way we clean, and the assumptions we make about microbes are not helping. Much of her work revolves around trying to understand how the use of specific chemicals impacts the microbes in indoor environments.

She explains that while most people operate under the assumption that all microbes are bad, the vast majority of microbes are neutral if not good; ironically, it is the chemicals we use and the way in which we use them that can sometimes be more detrimental to our health, and actually foster the development of antimicrobial resistance.

The main goal of Hartmann’s work is to identify the specific impacts of specific cleaning products on different microbial communities, and thereby be able to determine whether the appropriate cleaning agent is being used in the correct way. For example, depending on the specific microbe that’s being targeted by a cleaning agent, soap and water might be all that’s necessary, as opposed to a harsh chemical such as bleach.

Hartmann is a wealth of knowledge on environmental microbiology and these other incredibly relevant topics, so press play to hear all the details.

Visit https://sites.northwestern.edu/hartmann/ to learn more.

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