Not quite space, but microbes in high altitudes

Thanks to a recent tweet, I saw a paper I would have surely otherwise missed: A method for sampling microbial aerosols using high altitude balloons in the Journal of Microbiological Methods.

The proud LSU Tiger researchers describe a new system where a balloon sends up the sampler and then a cut mechanism separates the “payload” from the balloon at any desired altitude, which in this study’s case was 38km.

While high-altitude microbial sampling might not be something that many of us do, there were several aspects of this paper that I found interesting. First, the authors were extremely thorough with testing negative controls, even experimenting with different non-autoclave methods to see which performed best. The authors also determined the detection limit of their device : 87 bacterial cells above the controls. In addition to culturing, ATP concentrations were used as proxy for microbial biomass. Lastly, the study collected both microbial and total particles for quantitative analysis.

In sum, this paper combined a lot the issues that we think about in the indoor arena to a new height.


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Rachel Adams

Rachel Adams is a Project Scientist at University of California Berkeley.