Bacteria travel thousands of miles aided by dust


Airborne bacteria make up aerobiomes, which, when the dust settles back, can alter environmental chemistry and affect human and animal health, although scientists don’t know exactly how. In a new study, researchers from the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the Weizmann Institute of Science, in Rehovot, Israel, collected airborne dust at various times in their country. The researchers used DNA sequencing to identify the composition of the bacterial community in the dust, while trajectory modeling revealed the origins of the dust. The researchers found that the dust comes from a variety of locations, including North Africa, Saudi Arabia and Syria, underscoring the ability of bacterial communities to travel great distances; in fact, 1265 kilometers is the distance between Israel and Saudi Arabia.


To determine where the bacteria in Israeli aerobiomes came from, the researchers compared them to bacterial communities found on the surface of Mediterranean seawater and to dust sampled in Saudi Arabia near the coast of the Red Sea. Aerobiomes collected in Israel were found to be most similar to those collected in Saudi Arabia, which shows that a significant amount of bacteria (about 33%) in Israeli air may have come from distant locations. Furthermore, the dust examined showed a significantly greater abundance of genes associated with the biodegradation of organic contaminants , of anthropogenic origin, then dust generated by human activity.

The researchers say these preliminary results suggest that human impact on the composition and functional profile of the aerobiome is widespread and pave the way for understanding the role of dust storms in the spread of microorganisms in various environments, which are a factor in the spread of human, livestock, plant infections and ecosystem health.

  • Functional Genes Profile of Atmospheric Dust in the East Mediterranean Suggests Widespread Anthropogenic Influence on Aerobiome Composition. (




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