Monday, August 22, 2011

What’s in the air you breathe? Apparently dog poop according to a new study…

Dog poop is a major source of
airborne bacteria, researchers say.
Photo Credit: PhotoStock
Bacteria from fecal material -- in particular, dog fecal material -- may be the leading source of airborne bacteria. At least in Cleveland and Detroit, according to a new study.

"We found unexpectedly high bacterial diversity in all of our samples, but to our surprise the airborne bacterial communities of Detroit and Cleveland most closely resembled those communities found in dog poop," said lead author Robert Bowers, a graduate student in CU-Boulder's ecology and evolutionary biology department and the CU-headquartered Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES. 

"This suggests that dog poop may be a potential source of bacteria to the atmosphere at these locations."

The study was published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology

Scientists already knew that bacteria exist in the atmosphere and that these bacteria can have detrimental effects on human health, triggering allergic asthma and seasonal allergies. But it is only in recent years that researchers have realized that there is an incredible diversity of bacteria residing in the air. 

"There is a real knowledge gap," said study co-author Noah Fierer, an assistant professor in CU-Boulder's ecology and evolutionary biology department. "We are just starting to realize this uncharted microbial diversity in the air -- a place where you wouldn't exactly expect microbes to be living."

The airborne dog poop was more prevent in the winter months say the researchers. They believe it’s because the cold and snow seems to suppress the influence from other sources like soil, dust, leaves, lakes and oceans.

The team now plans to investigate the bacterial communities in other cities in order to build a continental-scale atlas of airborne bacterial communities.

"We don't know if the patterns we observed in those sites are unique to those cities," Fierer said. "Does San Francisco have the same bacteria as New York? Nobody knows as yet.

Fierer believes it is important to pin down the types of bacteria in the air and how these bacteria vary by location and season. With this information, scientists can then investigate the possible impacts on human health, he said.

"We need much better information on what sources of bacteria we are breathing in."

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