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High bacterial 16S rRNA gene diversity above the atmospheric boundary layer

Journal article
Authors Ulla Li Zweifel
A. Hagstrom
K. Holmfeldt
R. Thyrhaug
C. Geels
L. M. Frohn
C. A. Skjoth
U. G. Karlson
Published in Aerobiologia
Volume 28
Issue 4
Pages 481-498
ISSN 0393-5965
Publication year 2012
Published at Department of Chemistry and Molecular Biology
Pages 481-498
Language en
Keywords Biological aerosols, Airborne, microorganisms, Trajectories, Cloud formation, Ice nucleation, culturable airborne bacteria, air-pollution forecasts, long-range, transport, birch betula pollen, urban street scale, marine, bacterioplankton, ambrosia pollen, regional-scale, aerosols, community, rter kg, 1980, limnology and oceanography, v25, p943
Subject categories Biological Sciences


The atmosphere is host to an omnipresent bacterial community that may influence fundamental atmospheric processes such as cloud formation and precipitation onset. Knowledge of this bacterial community is scarce, particularly in air masses relevant to cloud formation. Using a light aircraft, we sampled above the atmospheric boundary layer-that is, at heights at which cloud condensation occurs-over coastal areas of Sweden and Denmark in summer 2009. Enumeration indicated total bacterial numbers of 4 x 10(1) to 1.8 x 10(3) m(-3) air and colony-forming units of 0-6 bacteria m(-3) air. 16S rRNA gene libraries constructed from samples collected above the Baltic Sea coast revealed a highly diverse bacterial community dominated by species belonging to the genera Sphingomonas and Pseudomonas. Bacterial species known to carry ice-nucleating proteins were found in several samples. Modeled back trajectories suggested the potential sources of the sampled bacteria to be diverse geographic regions, including both marine and terrestrial environments in the northern hemisphere. Several samples contained 16S rRNA genes from plant chloroplasts, confirming a terrestrial contribution to these samples. Interestingly, the airborne bacterial community displayed an apparent seasonal succession that we tentatively ascribe to in situ succession in the atmosphere.

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