atmosphere-03-00087.pdf - Atmosphere 2012 3 87-102...

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Atmosphere 2012 , 3 , 87-102; doi:10.3390/atmos3010087 atmosphere ISSN 2073-4433 www.mdpi.com/journal/atmosphere Review Atmosphere: A Source of Pathogenic or Beneficial Microbes? Paraskevi N. Polymenakou Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, Institute of Marine Biology and Genetics, Gournes Pediados, P.O. Box 2214, 71500 Heraklion, Crete, Greece; E-Mail: [email protected]; Tel.: +30-2810-337855; Fax: +30-2810-337870 Received: 28 November 2011; in revised form: 29 December 2011 / Accepted: 4 January 2012 / Published: 16 January 2012 Abstract: The atmosphere has been described as one of the last frontiers of biological exploration on Earth. The composition of microbial communities in the atmosphere is still not well-defined, and taxonomic studies of bacterial diversity in the outdoor air have just started to emerge, whereas our knowledge about the functional potential of air microbiota is scant. When in the air, microorganisms can be attached to ambient particles and/or incorporated into water droplets of clouds, fog, and precipitation ( i.e. , rain, snow, hail). Further, they can be deposited back to earth’s surfaces via dry and wet deposition processes and they can possibly induce an effect on the diversity and function of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems or impose impacts to human health through microbial pathogens dispersion. In addition to their impact on ecosystem and public health, there are strong indications that air microbes are metabolically active and well adapted to the harsh atmospheric conditions. Furthermore they can affect atmospheric chemistry and physics, with important implications in meteorology and global climate. This review summarizes current knowledge about the ubiquitous presence of microbes in the atmosphere and discusses their ability to survive in the atmospheric environment. The purpose is to evaluate the atmospheric environment as a source of pathogenic or beneficial microbes and to assess the biotechnological opportunities that may offer. Keywords: air microbiota; health; metabolic processes; biotechnology 1. Introduction/Motivation Microbes, which make up most of the Earth’s biomass, have been found in virtually every environment, surviving and thriving in extremes of heat, cold, radiation, pressure, salinity, acidity, and OPEN ACCESS
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Atmosphere 2012 , 3 88 darkness. The presence of these life forms has predominantly been studied on land and in water, but his focus is challenging. A variety of sites including geysers and oceanic thermal vents, deep-sea, hypersaline basins, Antarctic sea ice and oxygen-depleted rivers and lakes have been increasingly and extensively explored for their biology within the past few years [1]. However, the atmospheric environment has been not appreciated as a biological entity so far, even if it is as alive as soil or water [2]. The air that we breathe not only comprises nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide but also traces of other gases, inorganic particles and particles of biological origin [3]. The latter are termed bioaerosols and a large part of them are microorganisms that colonize soil, water bodies, plant surfaces, rocks and buildings and readily released into the air by wind erosion and splashing water [4,5]. When in the air,
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