From: Weizmann Institute of Science
Published June 27, 2017 10:20 AM

The Dust Storm Microbiome

Israel is subjected to sand and dust storms from several directions: northeast from the Sahara, northwest from Saudi Arabia and southwest from the desert regions of Syria. The airborne dust carried in these storms affects the health of people and ecosystems alike. New research at the Weizmann Institute of Science suggests that part of the effect might not be in the particles of dust but rather in bacteria that cling to them, traveling many kilometers in the air with the storms.

Some of these bacteria might be pathogenic – harmful to us or the environment – and a few of them also carry genes for antibiotic resistance. Others may induce ecosystem functions such as nitrogen fixation. Prof. Yinon Rudich and his research group, including postdoctoral fellow Dr. Daniela Gat and former research student Yinon Mazar, in Weizmann’s Earth and Planetary Sciences Department investigated the genetics of the windborne bacteria arriving along with the dust.

“In essence, we investigated the microbiome of windborne dust,” says Rudich. “The microbiome of a dust storm originating in the Sahara is different from one blowing in from the Saudi or Syrian deserts, and we can see the fit between the bacterial population and the environmental conditions existing in each area.”

The researchers found that during a dust storm the concentration of bacteria and the number of bacterial species present in the atmosphere rise sharply, so people walking outdoors in these storms are exposed to many more bacteria than usual.

Read more at Weizmann Institute of Science

Image: Dust storm in Timna Park is shown. (Credit: Weizmann Institute of Science)

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