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Legal immigrants: invasion of alien microbial communities during winter occurring desert dust storms

by Enric Terradellas last modified Mar 30, 2017 02:59 PM

We are pleased to announce the publication of the following paper:

Weil, T., De Filippo, C., Albanese, D., Donati, C., Pindo, M., Pavarini, L., ... & Barbante, C. (2017). Legal immigrants: invasion of alien microbial communities during winter occurring desert dust storms. Microbiome, 5(1), 32.

ABSTRACT

Background

A critical aspect regarding the global dispersion of pathogenic microorganisms is associated with atmospheric movement of soil particles. Especially, desert dust storms can transport alien microorganisms over continental scales and can deposit them in sensitive sink habitats. In winter 2014, the largest ever recorded Saharan dust event in Italy was efficiently deposited on the Dolomite Alps and was sealed between dust-free snow. This provided us the unique opportunity to overcome difficulties in separating dust associated from “domestic” microbes and thus, to determine with high precision microorganisms transported exclusively by desert dust.

Results

Our metagenomic analysis revealed that sandstorms can move not only fractions but rather large parts of entire microbial communities far away from their area of origin and that this microbiota contains several of the most stress-resistant organisms on Earth, including highly destructive fungal and bacterial pathogens. In particular, we provide first evidence that winter-occurring dust depositions can favor a rapid microbial contamination of sensitive sink habitats after snowmelt.

Conclusions

Airborne microbial depositions accompanying extreme meteorological events represent a realistic threat for ecosystem and public health. Therefore, monitoring the spread and persistence of storm-travelling alien microbes is a priority while considering future trajectories of climatic anomalies as well as anthropogenically driven changes in land use in the source regions.

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