"We detected thousands of unique microbial species, many of which seem particularly well-suited for atmospheric transport," says first author David J. Smith, a graduate student at the University of Washington, Seattle. "We also detected archaea, a domain of life that has never before been sampled at high altitude. We are just starting to understand the consequences of long-range microbial transport."
"Over 70 million tons of Asian aerosols—mostly dust—reach our continent every year," says Smith. "There could be thousands of microbes per gram of dust. Do the math. The number is staggering. Distant continents are essentially sneezing on each other."
Although the research is basic, Smith foresees value in understanding how bacteria survive at high altitudes during intercontinental journeys. For example, identifying the mechanisms for resisting ultraviolet radiation at altitude, which likely involve protecting and repairing DNA, could prove invaluable to biotechnology and medicine, says Smith. "It is difficult to predict specific breakthroughs and applications, but studying microbes in extreme environments has had practical benefit before," he says, mentioning discovery of a thermostable enzyme from microbes in the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park, which proved invaluable to Polymerase Chain Reaction. Additionally, developing predictive models of disease dispersal via the tradewinds "could be of tremendous value to farmers," says Smith.
The research took place at an observatory perched on the summit of a volcano in the Pacific Northwest, says Smith. "We could process huge volumes of air, 24/7, and capture enough biomass to analyze airborne microorganisms using molecular methods." Two major pollution events emanating from Asia during the sampling season of 2011 helped the team distinguish Asian expatriate microbes from locals, along with chemical and meteorological methods, says Smith.
The research was physically challenging. "Mt. Bachelor is a very snowy place and one of the windiest mountains in North America," says Smith. "Some summit days were an endurance marathon. Wearing latex gloves when it's 20 degrees below zero is not fun. But it was a worthwhile sacrifice for science, and I would happily do it again."
Conducting the research also changed how Smith views the sky. "Now when I look at the clouds, I see microbial sanctuaries," he says.
A PDF of the manuscript can be found online at http://bit.ly/asmtip1212a. Formal publication is scheduled for the February 2013 issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
(D.J. Smith, H.J. Timonen, D.A. Jaffe, D.W. Griffin, M.N. Birmele, K.D. Perry, P.D. Ward, M.S. Robert, 2012. Intercontinental dispersal of bacteria and archaea in transpacific winds. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. (E-pub ahead of print 7 Dec. 2012).
Applied and Environmental Microbiology is a publication of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM). The ASM is the largest single life science society, composed of over 39,000 scientists and health professionals. Its mission is to advance the microbiological sciences as a vehicle for understanding life processes and to apply and communicate this knowledge for the improvement of health and environmental and economic well-being worldwide.
Jim Sliwa | EurekAlert!
New technology offers fast peptide synthesis
28.02.2017 | Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Biofuel produced by microalgae
28.02.2017 | Tokyo Institute of Technology
On January 15, 2009, Chesley B. Sullenberger was celebrated world-wide: after the two engines had failed due to bird strike, he and his flight crew succeeded after a glide flight with an Airbus A320 in ditching on the Hudson River. All 155 people on board were saved.
On January 15, 2009, Chesley B. Sullenberger was celebrated world-wide: after the two engines had failed due to bird strike, he and his flight crew succeeded...
In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport
Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...
The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.
The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...
Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...
13.02.2017 | Event News
10.02.2017 | Event News
09.02.2017 | Event News
28.02.2017 | Life Sciences
28.02.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering
28.02.2017 | Information Technology