Project Details


1512511 (Fennell)Microorganisms in air are typically assumed to be inactive. Yet air contains microbial growth substrates, and microbes known to metabolize these substrates have been collected from the atmosphere. It is not known whether microbes in ambient air are capable of inducing biogeochemical change on a global scale, as they are in other Earth environments. In this research metabolic activity of bacteria exposed to gaseous growth substrates in natural air will be investigated. The mitigation of two of the major greenhouse gases (GHG), methane and carbon dioxide, by airborne bacteria will be investigated, as well as potential interventions to enhance the effect. Microbial metabolism in air could be an important and modifiable sink for atmospheric contaminants including methane and carbon dioxide. Positive findings from this project could stimulate cross-disciplinary collaboration with atmospheric chemists and modelers to incorporate activity of natural airborne microbes into conceptual models and eventually quantitative models of atmospheric processes. Knowledge of microbial activity, metabolism and/or growth in the atmosphere would establish the atmosphere as part of the biosphere. This research expands upon a previous NSF project where the PIs developed rotating gas-phase bioreactors for aerial incubation of bacteria (Fennell, PI, Mainelis, co-PI; MCB-0606576) and where they have shown that airborne bacteria are active (Fennell, PI, Mainelis and Kerkhof coPIs; IOS-1022254). The hypotheses governing the continuing study are that active microorganisms in the atmosphere play a role in mitigation of greenhouse gases including methane and carbon dioxide and that this role could be enhanced by ecological engineering intervention. Specifically, this research will characterize methane and carbon dioxide biotransformation and uptake by airborne methanotrophic and phototrophic bacteria, respectively, under environmental conditions of light/dark and differing humidities and temperatures, addressing the question, what are the environmental factors that constrain activity of airborne GHG mitigating microbes?This award is co-funded by the MCB Division of the BIO Directorate and the CBET/ENG Environmental Sustainability program under BIOMAPS.
Effective start/end date7/1/156/30/17


  • National Science Foundation (National Science Foundation (NSF))


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