Research Found Microbes Carried in Wildfire Smoke
Microbes are found in all environments and play essential roles in nutrient cycling, gas exchange and through associations with plants and animals. However, the ways microbes are transported from one environment to another are not well understood.
Each year, wildland fires emit millions of tons of smoke particles into the atmosphere. Research at the University of Idaho has shown that these particles carry high numbers of diverse microbes with them. Traditionally, wildfires have been studied in terms of direct impacts to ecosystems and air quality, but the role of smoke as an agent of biological dispersal has yet to be explored.
Researchers from U of I collected microbes from smoke using vacuum pumps attached to filtering devices flown on unmanned aerial vehicles (“drones”) above wildland fires. Using an interdisciplinary approach including genetic analyses to identify microbes, they hope to better understand the consequences of smoke to human, plant, and animal health across all environments where wildland fire occurs. The increasing size and severity of global wildfires, leading to increased interaction between biomass burning smoke and human populations, make this research relevant to a wide range of stakeholders including those interested in the potential transport of human pathogens.
Targeted sampling in areas where human and forest pathogens intersect with wildland fire smoke may help answer persistent biological and epidemiological questions.