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Urban Air Teeming with a Variety of Bacteria

Urban aerosols have a biodiversity approaching that of some soil bacterial communities

THURSDAY, Dec. 21 (HealthDay News) -- The atmosphere over urban areas contains a rich, diverse and shifting array of bacteria, including pathogenic species and relatives of potential bioterrorism weapons, according to research published online Dec. 20 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Gary L. Andersen, Ph.D., of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., and colleagues collected daily samples of urban aerosol particles in Austin and San Antonio, Texas, over a 17-week period and analyzed their bacterial content.

The researchers found that urban aerosols contained at least 1,800 diverse bacterial types, a level approaching that of some soil bacterial communities. They identified a number of pathogenic species, including relatives of potential bioterrorism weapons such as anthrax and tularemia, but found no bioterrorist agents. They also found that time and weather had a stronger effect on bacterial composition than physical location.

"A global-scale study of this uncharacterized ecosystem is necessary to determine baselines for bioaerosol transport patterns," the authors conclude. "Such data will enable an understanding of future anthropogenic impacts including pollution, bioterrorism, and climate change in altering the biological composition of the air we breathe."

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