Bacterial Breeze

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Science  04 Jan 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6115, pp. 11
DOI: 10.1126/science.339.6115.11-a

Mount Bachelor in Oregon, USA, is at 2.8 km above sea level and is a useful high point from which to sample trans-Pacific dust plumes in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere. Using this observatory, Smith et al. investigated what living matter gets transported in the ∼64-teragram annual aerosol load from Asia. Airborne bacterial numbers and species were measured in two major plume events occurring in April and May 2011, from which some Gram-positive organisms were recovered and cultured. Atmospheric modeling revealed that the air masses lifted and swept through a storm loop from locations near China, Korea, and Japan, and sequencing detected ∼2800 bacterial species (operational taxonomic units) from a broad range of phyla. A few marine archaeans were also identified, but what was notable was the preponderance of spore-forming species capable of surviving extreme conditions. The work offers an indication of the potential role microbes play in cloud nucleation and precipitation in large-scale events, as well as their potential to be important air pollutants.

Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 10.1128/AEM.03029-12 (2012).

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