Particle size distribution of airborne microorganisms and pathogens during an intense African dust event in the eastern Mediterranean

TitleParticle size distribution of airborne microorganisms and pathogens during an intense African dust event in the eastern Mediterranean
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsPolymenakou, PN, Mandalakis M, Stephanou EG, Tselepides A
JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
Volume116
Issue3
Pages292 - 296
KeywordsAfrican dust, Bacterial community composition, Microbial transport, Particle size distribution, Pathogens
Abstract

Background: The distribution of microorganisms, and especially pathogens, over airborne particles of different sizes has been ignored to a large extent, but it could have significant implications regarding the dispersion of these microorganisms across the planet, thus affecting human health. Objectives: We examined the microbial quality of the aerosols over the eastern Mediterranean region during an African storm to determine the size distribution of microorganisms in the air. Methods: We used a five-stage cascade impactor for bioaerosol collection in a coastal city on the eastern Mediterranean Sea during a north African dust storm. Bacterial communities associated with aerosol particles of six different size ranges were characterized following molecular culture-independent methods, regardless of the cell culturability (analysis of 16S rRNA genes). Results: All 16S rDNA clone libraries were diverse, including sequences commonly found in Soil and marine ecosystems. Spore-forming bacteria such as Firmicules dominated large particle sizes (> 3.3 μm), whereas clones affiliated with Actinobacteria (found commonly in soil) and Bacteroidetes (widely distributed in the environment) gradually increased their abundance in aerosol particles of reduced size (< 33 μm). A large portion of the clones detected at respiratory particle sizes (< 3.3 μm) were phylogenetic neighbors to human pathogens that have been linked to several diseases. Conclusions: The presence of aerosolized bacteria in small, size particles may have significant implications to human health via intercontinental transportation of pathogens.

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