The atmospheric microbiome encompasses a wide spectrum of microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. They are suspended from Earth's surface to different atmospheric altitudes and can be transported in the atmospheric for long distances, and even stay viable. Airborne microorganisms can affect atmospheric processes and climate during their atmospheric journey, and when deposited, they can affect ecological systems and human health. Understanding of airborne microorganisms is a major knowledge gap.
Our underlying hypothesis is that air masses from distinct geographical and climatic origins may contain distinctive biological aerosols with specific functional genes. We are perfectly situated to sample distinct air masses and to test this hypothesis, using ultrasensitive metagenomics and digital quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) technologies to thoroughly map the genetic information of and investigate changes in the abundance of functional genes.
Our studies provide a rich database providing new and quantitative information about the atmospheric microbiome and its functional genes to a wide range of researchers. We recently mapped the microbiome population, which was carried with mineral dust particles during dust storms, and discovered that dust storm originating in the Sahara is different from one blowing in from the Saudi or Syrian deserts, and we can see the fit between the bacterial population and the environmental conditions existing in each area.
The Art of the Fungi. The world of fungi existing in our surrounding air is rich and diverse, and can be associated with disease or allergies. The picture show different fungi species sampled from the air during springtime in Rehovot, Israel by Dr. Naama Lang-Yona. Photography: Ohad Herches.