Bacteria from fecal material -- in particular, dog fecal material -- may constitute the dominant source of airborne bacteria in Cleveland's and Detroit's wintertime air, says a new University of Colorado Boulder study.
The CU-Boulder study showed that of the four Midwestern cities in the experiment, two cities had significant quantities of fecal bacteria in the atmosphere -- with dog feces being the most likely source.
"We found unexpectedly high bacterial diversity in all of our samples, but to our surprise the airborne bacterial communities of Detroit and Cleveland most closely resembled those communities found in dog poop," said lead author Robert Bowers, a graduate student in CU-Boulder's ecology and evolutionary biology department and the CU-headquartered Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES. "This suggests that dog poop may be a potential source of bacteria to the atmosphere at these locations."
The study was published July 29 in Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Co-authors on the study included Noah Fierer, an assistant professor in CU-Boulder's ecology and evolutionary biology department and a CIRES fellow; Rob Knight, an associate professor in CU-Boulder's chemistry and biochemistry department; Amy Sullivan and Jeff Collett Jr. of Colorado State University; and Elizabeth Costello of the Stanford University School of Medicine.
Scientists already knew that bacteria exist in the atmosphere and that these bacteria can have detrimental effects on human health, triggering allergic asthma and seasonal allergies, Fierer said. But it is only in recent years that researchers have realized that there is an incredible diversity of bacteriaresiding in the air, he said.
"There is a real knowledge gap," said Fierer. "We are just starting to realize this uncharted microbial diversity in the air -- a place where you wouldn't exactly expect microbes to be living."
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University of Colorado at Boulder