Bacillus-Dominant Airborne Bacterial Communities Identified During Asian Dust Events

Keunje Yoo, Il Han, Kwan Soo Ko, Tae Kwon Lee, Hyunji Yoo, Muhammad Imran Khan, James M Tiedje, Joonhong Park
Microbial Ecology 2019 March 23
Asian dust (AD) events have received significant attention due to their adverse effects on ecosystems and human health. However, detailed information about airborne pathogens associated with AD events is limited. This study monitored airborne bacterial communities and identified AD-specific bacteria and the potential hazards associated with these bacteria during AD events. Over a 33-month period, 40 air samples were collected under normal atmospheric conditions (non-AD events; n = 34) and during AD events (n = 6). The airborne bacterial communities in the air samples collected during non-AD events (non-AD sample) and AD events (AD sample) were evaluated using both culture-dependent and culture-independent methods. The bacterial diversity increased significantly, along with the 16S rRNA gene copy number, in AD samples (p < 0.05) and was positively correlated with PM10 concentration. High throughput sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene revealed that the relative abundance of the phylum Firmicutes increased substantially in AD samples (44.3 ± 5.0%) compared with non-AD samples (27.8 ± 4.3%). Within the phylum Firmicutes, AD samples included a greater abundance of Bacillus species (almost 23.8%) than non-AD samples (almost 13.3%). Both culture-dependent and culture-independent methods detected common predominant species closely related to Bacillus cereus during AD events. Subsequent multilocus sequence typing (MLST) and enterotoxin gene assays confirmed the presence of virulence factors in B. cereus isolates from AD samples. Furthermore, the abundance of bceT, encoding enterotoxin in B. cereus, was significantly higher in AD samples (p < 0.05). The systematic characterization of airborne bacterial communities in AD samples in this study suggests that B. cereus pose risks to public health.

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