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J Environ Monit. 2012 Feb;14(2):473-81. doi: 10.1039/c1em10753d. Epub 2011 Dec 22.

Bacterial communities in urban aerosols collected with wetted-wall cyclonic samplers and seasonal fluctuations of live and culturable airborne bacteria.

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Produce Safety and Microbiology Research Unit, United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Western Regional Research Center, Albany, CA, United States of America.


Airborne transmission of bacterial pathogens from point sources (e.g., ranches, dairy waste treatment facilities) to areas of food production (farms) has been suspected. Determining the incidence, transport and viability of extremely low levels of pathogens require collection of high volumes of air and characterization of live bacteria from aerosols. We monitored the numbers of culturable bacteria in urban aerosols on 21 separate days during a 9 month period using high volume cyclonic samplers at an elevation of 6 m above ground level. Culturable bacteria in aerosols fluctuated from 3 CFU to 6 million CFU/L of air per hour and correlated significantly with changes in seasonal temperatures, but not with humidity or wind speed. Concentrations of viable bacteria determined by fluorescence staining and flow cytometry correlated significantly with culturable bacteria. Members of the phylum Proteobacteria constituted 98% of the bacterial community, which was characterized using 16S rRNA gene sequencing using DNA from aerosols. Aquabacterium sp., previously characterized from aquatic environments, represented 63% of all clones and the second most common were Burkholderia sp; these are ubiquitous in nature and some are potential human pathogens. Whole genome amplification prior to sequencing resulted in a substantial decrease in species diversity compared to characterizing culturable bacteria sorted by flow cytometry based on scatter signals. Although 27 isolated colonies were characterized, we were able to culture 38% of bacteria characterized by sequencing. The whole genome amplification method amplified DNA preferentially from Phyllobacterium myrsinacearum, a minor member of the bacterial communities, whereas Variovorax paradoxus dominated the cultured organisms.

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