A germ-free research facility requires a good deal more care and planning than simply wiping your feet and washing your hands before you enter. Let's go behind the scenes to see how a new high tech research facility in Calgary will get the job done
The new International Microbiome Centre is U-shaped, and once you enter there is a counterclockwise traffic flow that will eventually take you out of the facility at the other end. After you have donned sterile garments there is no turning back which minimizes any contamination between areas. Want to get a cup of coffee? No problem but you will have to exit at the end of the 'U', go have your coffee, then return to the start, and shower and change again.
People can shower and put on specialized clothing, but it is a different matter for the equipment. From the chairs the staff are sitting on to the electronics, everything needs to be processed to ensure it is not bringing in contaminants. Autoclaves are pressure chambers used to sterilize material under high temperatures and the IMC features standard looking autoclaves as well as what could be described as a 'walk-in' autoclave for bigger jobs. Sensitive equipment or electronics cannot be put through that treatment but there is an answer to that as well. An 'air shower' decontaminates anything that can't go through an autoclave.
These measures are vital to the study of the microbiome which is the collection of trillions of microbes living in our gut and are important to our health. An imbalance can lead to many health issues ranging from asthma to obesity to long term chronic conditions. To understand how the microbiome affects our health it is important for researchers to know exactly how an organism responds to specific changes. A germ-free environment to work in means they can control the conditions as needed to study a single organism or imbalance.
The International Microbiome Centre in Calgary is one of only a few such facilities in the world and it is scheduled to open this week after almost 2 years of planning and construction. With the help of Dr. Kathy McCoy, director of the IMC and who was instrumental in its design, we got to look around before the equipment was moved in and the doors locked to start the decontamination procedures.
We used a 360º camera to give you the best all-round view of things such as the autoclave and the air shower chamber. In part 2 of our tour you'll see that equipment as well as the area that will soon be the cleanest part of the entire facility.
The 5 videos that are part of our International Microbiome Centre tour should work on any device where you can use a mouse (or your finger for touch screens) to look around the images to see where you are. If you are having problems viewing the videos, click the YouTube link and watch them directly on our 360 playlist.
Missed part 1? Click here and examine the entryway to the IMC where you will have to leave your street clothes and put on sterile garments.