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Environmental DNA, including allergens and pathogens, found abundantly in the sky according to new research.


Schematic of the highly integrated probe and our support system for aerobic eDNA sampling. credit: Berg (2023). DOI: 10.7717/ peerj.15171

A research article titled “Aircraft Surveys of Atmospheric eDNA: Exploring Biodiversity in the Sky” reveals a revolutionary approach to studying genetic material in the atmosphere. Scientists have developed a rugged, autoclavable probe and support system for environmental nucleic acids (eDNA) capture with full-flow filtration and a highly integrated chamber.

With this innovative probe, the research team mapped environmental DNA from the air by using a uniform and scalable flight pattern using light aircraft. The aim of the study was to collect bioaerosols, a fuzzy biological material, from a group of organisms at various heights above the main emission sources, and sequence them for identification.

This work began with the idea of ​​exploration, says Dr. Kimberly Mittress, a Clemson faculty member and principal investigator. “I am a molecular ecologist working on diverse wild species, from bacteria to epididymis to African buffalo. I also fly airplanes, and one summer while skydiving I had plenty of time to think about while climbing to jump.”

“Meteorologically, the conditions were great – legal 10 mile visibility, kinda calm wind, nice day at the office – but this was during a desert dust storm and there were visible particulate matter outside, everywhere. Weird feeling, but it makes the wheels turn.” “.

What exactly is in the air that we cannot see biologically? This is what she and her co-author set out to explore. “And now we’re pushing the boundaries of what we thought we knew about the sky. The sky isn’t a limit, it’s a treasure trove.”

The results of the study are extraordinary. Through the use of probe sampling and high-throughput metagenomic sequencing, the researchers detected the widespread presence of prokaryotic and eukaryotic eDNA in the atmosphere, reaching thousands of meters in the planetary boundary layer in the southeastern United States. Notably, the study detected chicken, cow and human eDNA at all flight altitudes, including a staggering 8,500 feet above the ground.

The researchers identified several common plant allergens from grasses, weeds, and trees, as well as from species not usually reported in the air, such as garlic, revealing a variety of airborne genetic material.

They also discovered pathogenic bacteria, bacteria previously unknown to exist in the atmosphere but found in other extreme environments such as deep sea sediments.

The autoclavable and reusable sampling probe used in the study proved reliable, limiting sample loss and contamination while filtering genetic material directly from the air. This groundbreaking work enables the mapping of genetic material of all species potentially using aircraft or other modes of flight or stationary and links air profiles to ground-level processes, providing insights into the presence and diversity of genetic material in the air we breathe.

The implications of this research are far-reaching, with applications in biodiversity, wildlife ecology, biodefence, and pathogen and allergy control. High-throughput study amplicon sequencing of DNA from bacteria, vertebrates, and plants demonstrates that bioaerosols can arise from natural processes, such as wind pollination in fields and forests, human-mediated activities, such as production farming, wastewater treatment, and industrial practices including That’s disinfecting hospital waste.

Airborne DNA profiles detected in the atmosphere reflect surface emissions, allergens, potential ice and cloud condensation cores. Aerosol efficacy is thought to influence air DNA profiles detected at altitude, suggesting the incorporation of lift indices and air mass properties to standardize aerobic eDNA surveys. In addition, researchers recommend standardized reporting of real-time, experimental flow rates, total air volumes, and the type(s) of sampling used, since they have critically different operational airflow requirements.

Biological material in the form of eDNA/RNA can be lifted, carried and deposited elsewhere by mixing, lifting and floating in the atmosphere, which can lead to biological consequences such as gene flow and hybridization processes.

The Atmosphere is Robust and Necessary for Life The discovery of airborne eDNA derived from vertebrates floating thousands of meters from its origin on the Earth’s surface indicates that the atmosphere contains diverse biological material, and has implications for biomonitoring and disease surveillance. Scientists can gain insight into the presence, abundance, and distribution of species in an area, provide valuable clues for identifying individuals or tracking their movements, or observing agricultural production from the atmosphere.

This study paves the way for a deeper understanding of airborne genetic material and its implications for various fields of study. By uncovering the secrets of the sky, scientists are gaining new insights into our environment, the air we breathe, and the complex connections among Earth’s biodiversity.

more information:
Kimberly L. Métris et al, Aircraft Surveys for Aerial eDNA: Screening Biodiversity in the Skies, Available here. Berg (2023). DOI: 10.7717/ peerj.15171

Journal information:

the quote: New Study Reveals Widespread Presence of Environmental DNA in the Sky, Including Allergens and Pathogens (2023, May 15), Retrieved May 15, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-05-reveals -wideskeeping-presence-environmental-dna.html

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