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Swab & PCR sampling & tests for mold contamination in buildings: this article explains the use of mold test swabs to collect mold test samples to screen buildings for harmful indoor mold, followed by a discussion of PCR for mold identification and building mold screens. In this article series discuss the validity of nearly all of the popular mold testing methods currently in use, pointing out the strengths and weakness of each approach to mold sampling in the indoor environment, beginning with air sampling for airborne mold levels indoors.
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The appropriateness of mold testing at all is discussed here and at MOLD EXPERT, WHEN TO HIRE and in other articles at this website. Because mold test validity and mold test accuracy are often confused, readers should also see ACCURACY OF VARIOUS MOLD TEST METHODS. People who need to conduct mold inspection and testing indoors should see MOLD TEST PROCEDURES.
Swab samples can be used to pull particles for microscopic exam but destroy the identifying conidiophores and hyphae; They are more often used to prepare cultures which have the shortcoming cited above. We make use of swabs to sample for bacteriological contamination.
A sterile swab is wiped across a sampled surface, the inserted into a
sterile tube for mailing to a lab.
Swabs are very effective for use in testing for bacteriological contamination testing but in our opinion they are of less use in fungal work.
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Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) can be used to identify individual genera/species with good accuracy and fairly quickly. The method requires costly equipment and is not available at most laboratories. Perhaps more important is that the data base of PCR identification information is limited to a small set of species compared with the wide range of genera/species which occur.
At least one excellent national laboratory offers this service for mold speciation. Depending on how rapidly technology drives down the cost and how rapidly the identification data base is expanded, we suspect that this method will see increased use.
The limitations of PCR as a mold identification tool are currently two: first, it is quite costly to perform per sample, and second, it is excellent at identifying the presence or absence of a specific mold you're looking for. It is less useful as a broad spectrum scan expected to pop up with a result of what's present out of the 1.5 million possible candidates - of which only a few are yet even in the PCR database.
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