Characterization of airborne bacteria at an underground subway station
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionApplied and Environmental Microbiology. 2012, 78 (6), 1917-1929. 10.1128/AEM.07212-11
The reliable detection of airborne biological threat agents depends on several factors, including the performance criteria of the detector and its operational environment. One step in improving the detector's performance is to increase our knowledge of the biological aerosol background in potential operational environments. Subway stations are enclosed public environments, which may be regarded as potential targets for incidents involving biological threat agents. In this study, the airborne bacterial community at a subway station in Norway was characterized (concentration level, diversity, and virulence- and survival-associated properties). In addition, a SASS 3100 high-volume air sampler and a matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization–time of flight mass spectrometry-based isolate screening procedure was used for these studies. The daytime level of airborne bacteria at the station was higher than the nighttime and outdoor levels, and the relative bacterial spore number was higher in outdoor air than at the station. The bacterial content, particle concentration, and size distribution were stable within each environment throughout the study (May to September 2010). The majority of the airborne bacteria belonged to the genera Bacillus, Micrococcus, and Staphylococcus, but a total of 37 different genera were identified in the air. These results suggest that anthropogenic sources are major contributors to airborne bacteria at subway stations and that such airborne communities could harbor virulence- and survival-associated properties of potential relevance for biological detection and surveillance, as well as for public health. Our findings also contribute to the development of realistic testing and evaluation schemes for biological detection/surveillance systems by providing information that can be used to mimic real-life operational airborne environments in controlled aerosol test chambers.