Why Studying Microorganisms in the Air Is Vital | ASM.org (2022)

Environmental microbiology covers microbes in water and soil, but did you know that air is also a microbial habitat? Air can be considered one of the least hospitable environments for microbes because it holds fewer nutrients and thus supports relatively fewer organisms. As a result, aeromicrobiology, the study of living microorganisms suspended in air, traditionally gets less attention than aquatic or soil microbiology. However, mounting evidence of airborne COVID-19 transmission has generated new interest in the field.

Why Studying Microorganisms in the Air Is Vital | ASM.org (1)

Microbes that are suspended in air are also called bioaerosols. Pathogenic bioaerosols are dependent upon prevailing physicochemical properties of the atmosphere, such as temperature, humidity, solar radiation, wind, precipitation and air pressure, for transport and survival. High temperature, for example, is generally unfavourable to the survival of bacteria and viruses in air, but with a more marked effect on the latter. Climate change has caused increased global atmospheric circulation, thus potentially moving bioaerosols from one geographic location to another. In turn, microorganisms suspended in air can act as nuclei for precipitation and can ultimately affect the climate. Also disturbing is the possibility of emerging and reemerging diseases occurring as a result of erratic climatic conditions adversely affecting microorganisms’ metabolic activities.

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The troposphere, or innermost layer of Earth’s atmosphere, is the most favorable for growth and survival of microorganisms. One reason is because it contains more water vapour than the other layers, thus preventing desiccation of the cells and also allowing a certain level of biological activity to be retained. Unlike soil microbes, which can be regarded as native to their environment, microbes found in the air only get there by being introduced from another source. Indeed, certain human activities, such as waste disposal, waste treatment, agriculture and industry, have the potential to release microbes into the air. Soil is a major source of bioaerosols as one gram of soil can hold millions (or even more!) bacterial and fungal cells, some of which exist in their spore form, making it easier for them to survive the harsh conditions of the atmosphere when they do become suspended.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis Typifies the Study of Airborne Microbes

Due to especially high mortality rates in developing countries, tuberculosis remains one of the most economically impactful infectious diseases in the world. Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria, the causative agent, have been shown to remain viable in air for up to 6 hours. The very small size of the bacterium (1-5µm range) allows it to remain suspended in air within bioaerosols when released from the lung, where it becomes subject to prevailing aerodynamics and can be transmitted to a susceptible host through inhalation, especially in a poorly ventilated indoor space. However, despite the fact that the spread of the bacteria has been correlated to close proximity with personal contacts, it has been difficult to establish aerosol transmission through conventional methods. Air sampling for viable M. tuberculosis from infected patients has proved challenging, and nucleic acid-based methods, such as PCR, may not always detect viable bacteria. One study used an in vivo air sampling model to show that environmental control measures are very pertinent in preventing the airborne transmission of tuberculosis.

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Airborne Fungal Spores Spread Disease Globally

Fungi are found in air mostly as spores. Spores are generally able to survive harsh environmental conditions for the following reasons: possession of a thicker cell wall; protective small molecules (sugars, amino acids, sugar alcohols and betaine) and expression of heat shock proteins. These features allow fungal spores to remain viable in air for longer periods than their vegetative forms. The transatlantic movement of fungal spores by wind from Africa is thought to be the source of certain plant pathogens in Brazil, the Caribbean and the United States. The protracted drought in Northern Africa over decades has also been linked to soil dust bearing aerosolized spores of Aspergillus sydowii, which cause the death of corals in the Caribbean and in Florida. Long distance dispersal (LDD) of fungal spores thus has a marked impact on plants, corals and other marine organisms. Fungal genera found in the air include standard players, such as Aspergillus, Penicillium, Rhizopus and Alternaria, along with other fungi, such as Coccidioides imitis and Histoplasma capsulatum, that can cause potentially life-threatening airborne disease in humans. The latter 2 are both found in guano (bird and bat droppings).

The disease caused by H. capsulatum, known as histoplasmosis, is transmitted by inhalation of conidia and hyphal fragments of the fungus found in dust and aerosols, especially in enclosed spaces like caves. However, as a ubiquitous fungus, it can also be found in open spaces. Environmental conditions, such as humidity of more than 60% (a common feature of bat caves), and temperature of 18-28°C, influence its sporulation in soil. Eventually, the infective propagules become aerosolized and inhaled by humans during recreational activities (e.g., tourists visiting caves) and occupational exposure (e.g., demolition sites).

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Examples of airborne pathogenic microorganisms.
TypeDiseaseEtiology
BacteriaPulmonary anthrax
Tuberculosis
Legionella
Bacillus anthracis
Mycobacterium tuberculosis
Legionella pneumophila
FungiCoccidiodomycosis
Cryptococcosis
Blastomycosis
Coccidioides immitis
Cryptococcus neoformans
Blastomyces dermatitis
VirusInfluenza
Common cold
Measles
Orthomyxovirus
Rhinovirus
Morbillivirus

COVID-19 Shines a Light on Airborne Viruses

Another group of microorganisms that are important in aeromicrobiology are viruses. Viruses are transported in air through either respiratory droplets or aerosols, in which they remain viable (depending on the prevailing environmental conditions) until they are transmitted to a susceptible host. Aerosols cannot be seen with the naked eye (except with the use of specialized equipment), while droplets can be seen as the spray of fluid released during a sneeze. The Spanish Flu and COVID-19 are both airborne viral outbreaks that became pandemics, and have left their mark on history. The current pandemic has raised questions about the role certain environmental and climatic factors play in transmission. Studies on the possible effects of environmental factors on airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 suggest that higher temperature (⋝38°C), wind turbulence and ultraviolet (UV) radiation slow down the transmission of the virus.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, people have become more aware of the spread of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) via respiratory droplets. However, the small size of aerosols (<5 µm) bearing viral particles (<100 nm) means the virus can remain suspended in air for longer periods, thus posing a bigger threat than larger respiratory droplets (5-100 µm) that easily succumb to gravity and fall onto surfaces. SARS-CoV-2 bioaerosols released during speech, singing or shouting have the possibility of lingering in indoor spaces, thus increasing the chances of high-transmission events. A 2019 study showed that some individuals are “speech super-emitters” who release aerosol particles at an order of magnitude greater than the average person. The average person releases about 1-50 aerosol particles per second, depending on loudness of their speech. Voice amplitude has also been shown to be directly proportional to the rate of aerosol particle emission. Thus, an asymptomatic super-emitter infected with COVID-19 could have a tremendous impact on the spread of the virus through aerosols in poorly ventilated indoor settings, especially during activities like singing.

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The role of the airborne route of transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is receiving increased attention globally. Even though there is some level of controversy regarding the role of aerosols in the COVID-19 pandemic, there is mounting evidence that this is actually a very important route for the spread of the virus. However, only a very limited number of studies have shown the presence of SARS-CoV-2 viral particles in the air. The viability and concentration of the virus in aerosols diminishes after approximately 3 hours, making it difficult to isolate the viral particles in the laboratory. As with M. tuberculosis, this poses a serious challenge in linking the presence of microorganisms in aerosols to the associated airborne disease. Yet, studies have suggested that the impact of aerosols in the spread of the disease is substantial, especially in indoor environments with poor ventilation.

Fields of research like mathematical modelling have opened more possibilities of analyzing infectious diseases, thus providing more understanding about their transmission in the community. It is important to study airborne diseases from a multidisciplinary angle in order to achieve a comprehensive picture and ultimately a multipronged approach to tackling and preventing future outbreaks. Applying data science tools such as artificial intelligence and big data would provide valuable insight in studying microorganisms suspended in air and their impact not just in health but in climate change and the environment. A consortium of experts in microbiology, epidemiology, infectious diseases, aerosol science, mathematical modelling, data science and public health, working together as a team, could beneficially impact the study of microbes suspended in air. The intricacies of airborne diseases and their health implications is only one of the reasons that should motivate us to pay bioaerosols this deserved attention.

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FAQs

Why studying microorganisms in the air is vital? ›

It is important to study airborne diseases from a multidisciplinary angle in order to achieve a comprehensive picture and ultimately a multipronged approach to tackling and preventing future outbreaks.

Why is studying microorganisms important? ›

By analysing microorganisms up close, microbiologists play a crucial role in combating disease, creating chemical products for agriculture, and even helping to keep the planet healthy.

Can you find microorganisms in the air? ›

Microorganisms are found in every environment on Earth, including soils, oceans, ice, and air (Figure 1). The microorganisms that are found in the air are called airborne microorganisms, and they travel either on their own or attached to dust particles.

Why the microorganisms are important answer in short? ›

Microorganisms help to generate oxygen and carbon dioxide, as well as fix atmospheric nitrogen into useable forms for multiple organisms. They also help animals ingest food by being part of the gut microbiome. Some species of microbe are symbiotic in nature.

What are the vital roles of microorganisms? ›

Microorganisms have several vital roles in ecosystems: decomposition, oxygen production, evolution, and symbiotic relationships. Decomposition is where dead animal or plant matter is broken down into more basic molecules.

What is the microbiology of air? ›

Air microbiology is a scientific discipline that concerns the microorganisms, including bacteria, archaea, fungi and viruses, in the atmospheric air. It is a subdiscipline of environmental microbiology.

Why is knowledge of microbiology essential for the prevention of infections? ›

A basic understanding of microbiology will allow you to recognize how your role as an IPC person can help break the cycle of transmission, prevent health care-associated infections (HAI) and reduce antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Why is it important to study food microbiology? ›

Microbiology is important to food safety, production, processing, preservation, and storage. Microbes such as bacteria, molds, and yeasts are employed for the foods production and food ingredients such as production of wine, beer, bakery, and dairy products.

What is the importance of studying microbiology and parasitology? ›

The Microbiology and Parasitology Option focuses on the mechanisms that underlie diseases caused by a number of important bacteria, protozoa and helminths.

What bacteria are found in the air? ›

The most frequently isolated organisms and their percent of occurence were Micrococcus (41%), Staphylococcus (11%), and Aerococcus (8%). The bacteria isolated were correlated with various weather and air pollution parameters using the Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient method.

Do microorganisms float in the air? ›

“Most of the bacteria that are going upward are coming either from soil surfaces or mostly plant surfaces,” she adds. “So these bacteria lift off, sort of like dandruff, and float up into the atmosphere, and they can go all the way to the stratosphere.” In fact, there's an entire microbiome in the sky.

What are the factors that influence the survival of microorganisms in the air? ›

Many environmental factors have been shown to influence the ability of microorganisms to survive. The most important of these are relative humidity and temperature. Oxygen content, specific ions, UV radiation, various pollutants and AOFs (air-associated factors) are also factors in the loss of biological activity.

Why microorganisms are important in our daily life Brainly? ›

They also occupy important place in the food chain. The dead and decaying plant and animal matter is converted into soil and Minerals by these organisms. If there were no microorganisms, huge piles of debris could have piled up everywhere on the earth. Therefore microorganisms are very important organisms on the earth.

How are microorganisms useful to us 10 points? ›

Microbes are used to reduce pollution. They are used to increase soil fertility by fixing atmospheric nitrogen. Microbes are also useful in preparing many medicines and antibiotics. Certain microbes are also used in the biological treatment of sewage and industrial effluents.

Which one of the following is the most important role of microorganisms for the well being of humans? ›

Conversion of milk to curd is the considered as an important role in the micro organism for the well being of humans. . Bacteria like Lactobacillus can be used to make curd from milk by process of fermentation.

What three activities are vital to life and performed by microorganisms? ›

In number of essential roles such as: competing with disease-causing microbes for nutrients, helping the body digest foods, and promoting the development of the immune system.

What is the importance of bacteria in the environment? ›

Bacteria play important roles in the global ecosystem.

The cycling of nutrients such as carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur is completed by their ceaseless labor. Organic carbon, in the form of dead and rotting organisms, would quickly deplete the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere if not for the activity of decomposers.

How do microorganisms play an important role in keeping the environment clean? ›

This is because the microorganisms decompose dead organic waste of plants and animals converting them into simple substances. These substances are again used by other plants and animals. Thus, microorganisms can be used to degrade the harmful and smelly substances and thereby clean up the environment.

How many microbes are in the air? ›

The air you breathe is teeming with more than 1,800 kinds of bacteria, including harmless relatives of microbes associated with bioterrorist attacks, according to a new study.

What methods are used for detection of microbial number of air? ›

There are two primary methods for microbial air sampling: Active and Passive monitoring. In active monitoring, a microbial air sampler is used to force air into, or onto its collection medium (e.g., Petri Dish with nutrient agar based test media) over a specified period of time.

How do you isolate bacteria in the air? ›

Principle. The Isolation of Microorganism From Air is performed by using the settle-plate technique. In this method a suitable medium is poured over a sterile petri dish and then allow it to slidify. After that the plate is exposed to the open air for a few minutes.

What is the most important factor in preventing the spread of microorganisms? ›

"Clean hands are the single most important factor in preventing the spread of dangerous germs and antibiotic resistance in health care settings," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the CDC.

How can we prevent disease caused by microorganisms? ›

Warding off germs and infection
  1. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  2. Cover coughs and sneezes.
  3. Avoid touching your face.
  4. Stay home if you're sick.
  5. Clean and disinfect surfaces that are touched often.
  6. Avoid contaminated food and water.

What is the importance of infection prevention and control? ›

Without effective IPC it is impossible to achieve quality health care delivery. Infection prevention and control effects all aspects of health care, including hand hygiene, surgical site infections, injection safety, antimicrobial resistance and how hospitals operate during and outside of emergencies.

Why is microbiology culture important? ›

Microbial cultures are used to determine the type of organism, its abundance in the sample being tested, or both. It is one of the primary diagnostic methods of microbiology and used as a tool to determine the cause of infectious disease by letting the agent multiply in a predetermined medium.

How does microbiology affect everyday life? ›

Microbiology helps us to identify the microorganisms that exist in food. With a better understanding of these microorganisms, help the biologists to find out the ways for preventing the food from spoilage and make food safe. Scientists use good bacteria against pathogenic bacteria to prevent food contamination.

What is the role of microorganisms in food preparation? ›

Nature uses microorganisms to carry out fermentation processes, and for thousands of years mankind has used yeasts, moulds and bacteria to make food products such as bread, beer, wine, vinegar, yoghurt and cheese, as well as fermented fish, meat and vegetables.

What is the importance of microbiology in public health? ›

Strong capacity of public health microbiology laboratory systems is crucial in providing timely and reliable information on pathogen detection and characterization needed for effective infectious diseases prevention and control, especially in response to epidemic threats.

What do you study in microbiology? ›

Microbiology is the study of the biology of microscopic organisms - viruses, bacteria, algae, fungi, slime molds, and protozoa. The methods used to study and manipulate these minute and mostly unicellular organisms differ from those used in most other biological investigations.

Who Discovered maximum microorganisms in air? ›

Two men are credited today with the discovery of microorganisms using primitive microscopes: Robert Hooke who described the fruiting structures of molds in 1665 and Antoni van Leeuwenhoek who is credited with the discovery of bacteria in 1676.

In which type of environment do microorganisms grow best? ›

Bacteria can live in hotter and colder temperatures than humans, but they do best in a warm, moist, protein-rich environment that is pH neutral or slightly acidic. There are exceptions, however. Some bacteria thrive in extreme heat or cold, while others can survive under highly acidic or extremely salty conditions.

Where did the microorganisms in the air plates come from? ›

Microbes in air generally come from soil, water, and living organisms' activities. The microflora of air is highly dynamic and is affected by temperature, wind speed, moisture/humidity, pollution, and other human and animal activities.

Are microorganisms found in the air and on inanimate objects? ›

Microorganisms may be transmitted from animated sources to inanimate environmental sources, which may become secondary reservoirs if they meet the needs of transmitted pathogens to survive and to multiply.

Who proved that microorganisms existed in the atmosphere and on surfaces? ›

The existence of microscopic organisms was discovered during the period 1665-83 by two Fellows of The Royal Society, Robert Hooke and Antoni van Leeuwenhoek.

What is the role of bacteria in increasing soil fertility for Class 8? ›

Bacteria increase soil fertility through nutrient recycling such as carbon, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus. Bacteria decompose dead organic matter and release simple compounds in the soil, which can be taken up by plants.

How do microorganisms affect the environment? ›

The most significant effect of the microorganisms on earth is their ability to recycle the primary elements that make up all living systems, especially carbon (C), oxygen (O) and nitrogen (N). These elements occur in different molecular forms that must be shared among all types of life.

What are good microorganisms explain some of the uses of good microorganisms Class 8? ›

some examples of good microorganisms lactobacillus ,yeast, molds. lactobacillus is used for making yoghurt and curd. yeast is used to make bread wine. moulds are used in the fermentation of certain cheese.

Which microorganisms are useful to us? ›

Solution : Many microbes are useful to us, such as bacteria which are used for making curd from milk, yeast used to ferment the batter of bread, bacteria used for making other milk products, bacteria and fungi used for making antibiotics. The bacteria are even used for pollution control.

What is the importance of microorganisms? ›

Microbes help to break down organic matter from plants, animals, and other microbes. They are involved with the nitrogen and carbon cycles. Microorganisms help to generate oxygen and carbon dioxide, as well as fix atmospheric nitrogen into useable forms for multiple organisms.

Can we live without microorganisms? ›

We wouldn't be able to digest our food properly without our gut bacteria. Crops around the world would start to die without the nutrients generated by microbes. Dead fish would float to the surface of lakes and oceans, and ocean life would be extinguished.

What is the economic importance of microorganisms? ›

Bacteria are economically important as these microorganisms are used by humans for many purposes. The beneficial uses of bacteria include the production of traditional foods such as fudge, yogurt, cheese, and vinegar. Microbes are also important in agriculture for the compost and fertilizer production.

How the environment affects the growth and spread of microbes? ›

Warmth, moisture, pH levels and oxygen levels are the four big physical and chemical factors affecting microbial growth. In most buildings, warmth and moisture are the biggest overall issues present. Dampness is a big player in the growth of fungi. Just like any living thing, water is essential to the life of microbes.

What are the factors that influence the survival of microorganisms in the air? ›

Many environmental factors have been shown to influence the ability of microorganisms to survive. The most important of these are relative humidity and temperature. Oxygen content, specific ions, UV radiation, various pollutants and AOFs (air-associated factors) are also factors in the loss of biological activity.

In which type of environment do microorganisms grow best? ›

Bacteria can live in hotter and colder temperatures than humans, but they do best in a warm, moist, protein-rich environment that is pH neutral or slightly acidic. There are exceptions, however. Some bacteria thrive in extreme heat or cold, while others can survive under highly acidic or extremely salty conditions.

What do microorganisms do for the environment? ›

Microorganisms are found everywhere in the environment and play a leading role in countless natural processes. Among other things, they operate the basic drug cycles that are necessary for the plants' supply of nutrients via the reaction of organic matter in soil.

What bacteria can be found in the air? ›

The number of bacteria found ranged from 0.013 to 1.88 organisms per liter of air sampled. Representatives of 19 different genera were found in 21 samples. The most frequently isolated organisms and their percent of occurence were Micrococcus (41%), Staphylococcus (11%), and Aerococcus (8%).

Who discovered maximum microorganisms in air? ›

Two men are credited today with the discovery of microorganisms using primitive microscopes: Robert Hooke who described the fruiting structures of molds in 1665 and Antoni van Leeuwenhoek who is credited with the discovery of bacteria in 1676.

Where did the microorganisms in the air plates come from? ›

Microbes in air generally come from soil, water, and living organisms' activities. The microflora of air is highly dynamic and is affected by temperature, wind speed, moisture/humidity, pollution, and other human and animal activities.

How do you isolate bacteria in the air? ›

Principle. The Isolation of Microorganism From Air is performed by using the settle-plate technique. In this method a suitable medium is poured over a sterile petri dish and then allow it to slidify. After that the plate is exposed to the open air for a few minutes.

How are microbial levels controlled in the air? ›

Microbial levels on skin are best controlled by hand washing, on surfaces in the environment with use of disinfectants like bleach, and in the air by HEPA filtration systems.

How do we monitor the microbial quality of air? ›

In active monitoring a microbiological air sampler physically draws a known volume of air through or over a particle collection device which can be a liquid or a solid culture media or a nitrocellulose membrane and the quantity of microorganisms present is measured in CFU (colony forming units)/m3 of air.

Do microorganisms need oxygen? ›

Bacteria that require oxygen to grow are called obligate aerobic bacteria. In most cases, these bacteria require oxygen to grow because their methods of energy production and respiration depend on the transfer of electrons to oxygen, which is the final electron acceptor in the electron transport reaction.

How are microorganisms helpful to humans and the environment? ›

The most significant effect of the microorganisms on earth is their ability to recycle the primary elements that make up all living systems, especially carbon (C), oxygen (O) and nitrogen (N). These elements occur in different molecular forms that must be shared among all types of life.

Can we live without microorganisms? ›

We wouldn't be able to digest our food properly without our gut bacteria. Crops around the world would start to die without the nutrients generated by microbes. Dead fish would float to the surface of lakes and oceans, and ocean life would be extinguished.

What would happen if microorganisms were not discovered? ›

Without microbes, they too would die, and the entire food webs of these dark, abyssal worlds would collapse. Shallower oceans would fare little better. Corals, which depend on microscopic algae and a surprisingly diverse collection of bacteria, would become weak and vulnerable.

Do microorganisms float in the air? ›

“Most of the bacteria that are going upward are coming either from soil surfaces or mostly plant surfaces,” she adds. “So these bacteria lift off, sort of like dandruff, and float up into the atmosphere, and they can go all the way to the stratosphere.” In fact, there's an entire microbiome in the sky.

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