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eters above the surface of the earth. This genus contains some of the world’s most devastating plant and animal pathogens and remains largely a mystery to scientists who do not have a firm understanding of its ability to travel long distances in the atmosphere. By placing antibiotics in the sampling collection plates, researchers can ensure that only Fusarium will grow on the plates. Over the course of 75 different UAV-sampling flights above agricultural fiends at Virginia Tech’s Kentland Farm, Schmale and his colleagues collected more than 500 viable colonies of Fusarium, representing at least a dozen species.

“For 11 of these Fusarium species, this is the first report of their ability to be transported great distances above the surface of the earth,” Schmale said. “Our work has important implications for the rapid spread of invasive plant and animal pathogens in the United States.”

Schmale’s research is not limited to the study of Fusarium, however. He has expanded his interests to explore entire microbial populations in the atmosphere—a type of research he calls “aerogenomics.”

“One of the species we collected with our autonomous UAVs appears to be a bacterium known only to exist in a cavern in Arizona,” he said. “What was that bacterium doing 100 meters above Kentland Farm" In many of our other samples, we have found organisms that have never been cultured before. Some of these microbes may thrive only in the atmosphere, and many of them may be new to science.”

This and other fascinating results have led Schmale to hypothesize that some airborne microorganisms have “novel biochemical processes for interacting with each other as a community of organisms in the atmosphere.” He explained, “We know that microbes mediate important biochemical processes in the soil and the ocean. It is not so farfetched that a similar drama unfolds in the atmosphere, which we already know is teeming with microbial life.”

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Source:Virginia Tech


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