Bubble trouble and bioaerosols - News & Features

21 September 2017
Bubble trouble and bioaerosols

How well do bacteria survive in the air? Bioaerosol is the term used for micro-organisms suspended in the air. These micro-organisms include fungi and bacteria, as well as their components such as mycotoxins, endotoxins and glucans.

We know that bioaerosols aren’t filtered out by hairs and specialised cells that line the nose. Due to their airborne nature and size, many bioaerosols can penetrate the human respiratory system, resulting in inflammatory and allergic responses.

Airborne worry

In the atmosphere, bioaerosols can have influence on the global climate, promoting cloud formation and ice nucleation. As bioaerosols can lead to dispersion of biological contaminants over long distances relative to terrestrial transport mechanisms, they significantly affect changes in biodiversity and ecology as well as the propagation of biological pollutants. Furthermore, bioaerosols can be effective carriers of pathogenic organisms to plants, animals and humans, resulting in the spread of disease.

Historically significant events propagated by bioaerosols include the Irish Potato Famine, the Bubonic Plague and the 1918 Influenza pandemic. More recent events include the risk of bioterrorism using pathogenic bioaerosols, as well potential for epidemics transmitted by the airborne route. The anthrax attacks in the United States in 2001 killed five people and sickened another 17.

The recent outbreaks of Avian Flu and the transmission of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) have similarly piqued the world's interest in bioaerosols. Although these cases may be more extreme examples of the effects of bioaerosols, the potential devastation of bioterrorism or airborne diseases has increased the need to better understand how they work.

Bubble trouble

A recent study in Journal of Applied Microbiology focused on in vitro experiments to compare aerosolization rates (also known as preferential aerosolization) of Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria as well as rod- and coccus-shaped bacteria, using two nebulization conditions.

To date, there have been no simulated in vitro studies that investigate what may dictate preferential aerosolization, such as the method of aerosolization, or the physical characteristics of the organism.