Intercontinental dispersal of bacteria and archaea by transpacific winds

Applied and Environmental Microbiology
By: , and 



Microorganisms are abundant in the upper atmosphere, particularly downwind of arid regions, where winds can mobilize large amounts of topsoil and dust. However, the challenge of collecting samples from the upper atmosphere and reliance upon culture-based characterization methods have prevented a comprehensive understanding of globally dispersed airborne microbes. In spring 2011 at the Mt. Bachelor Observatory in North America (2.8 km above sea level), we captured enough microbial biomass in two transpacific air plumes to permit a microarray analysis using 16S rRNA genes. Thousands of distinct bacterial taxa spanning a wide range of phyla and surface environments were detected before, during, and after each Asian long-range transport event. Interestingly, the transpacific plumes delivered higher concentrations of taxa already in the background air (particularly Proteobacteria, Actinobacteria, and Firmicutes). While some bacterial families and a few marine archaea appeared for the first and only time during the plumes, the microbial community compositions were similar, despite the unique transport histories of the air masses. It seems plausible, when coupled with atmospheric modeling and chemical analysis, that microbial biogeography can be used to pinpoint the source of intercontinental dust plumes. Given the degree of richness measured in our study, the overall contribution of Asian aerosols to microbial species in North American air warrants additional investigation.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Intercontinental dispersal of bacteria and archaea by transpacific winds
Series title Applied and Environmental Microbiology
DOI 10.1128/AEM.03029-12
Volume 79
Issue 4
Year Published 2013
Language English
Publisher American Society for Microbiology
Publisher location Washington, D.C.
Contributing office(s) St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center
Description 6 p.
First page 1134
Last page 1139
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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