Respirable Metals, Bacteria, and Fungi during a Saharan-Sahelian Dust Event in Houston, Texas. Academic Article uri icon


  • Although airborne bacteria and fungi can impact human, animal, plant, and ecosystem health, very few studies have investigated the possible impact of their long-range transport in the context of more commonly measured aerosol species, especially those present in an urban environment. We report first-of-kind simultaneous measurements of the elemental and microbial composition of North American respirable airborne particulate matter concurrent with a Saharan-Sahelian dust episode. Comprehensive taxonomic and phylogenetic profiles of microbial communities obtained by 16S/18S/ITS rDNA sequencing identified hundreds of bacteria and fungi, including several cataloged in the World Health Organization's lists of global priority human pathogens along with numerous other animal and plant pathogens and (poly)extremophiles. While elemental analysis sensitively tracked long-range transported Saharan dust and its mixing with locally emitted aerosols, microbial diversity, phylogeny, composition, and abundance did not well correlate with the apportioned African dust mass. Bacterial/fungal diversity, phylogenetic signal, and community turnover were strongly correlated to apportioned sources (especially vehicular emissions and construction activities) and elemental composition (especially calcium). Bacterial communities were substantially more dissimilar from each other across sampling days than were fungal communities. Generalized dissimilarity modeling revealed that daily compositional turnover in both communities was linked to calcium concentrations and aerosols from local vehicles and Saharan dust. Because African dust is known to impact large areas in northern South America, the Caribbean Basin, and the southern United States, the microbiological impacts of such long-range transport should be assessed in these regions.

published proceedings

  • Environ Sci Technol

author list (cited authors)

  • Das, S., McEwen, A., Prospero, J., Spalink, D., & Chellam, S.

complete list of authors

  • Das, Sourav||McEwen, Alyvia||Prospero, Joseph||Spalink, Daniel||Chellam, Shankararaman

publication date

  • November 2023