Sierra Nevada sweep: metagenomic measurements of bioaerosols vertically distributed across the troposphere

Crystal Jaing*, James Thissen, Michael Morrison, Michael B. Dillon, Samantha M. Waters, Garrett T. Graham, Nicholas A. Be, Patrick Nicoll, Sonali Verma, Tristan Caro, David J. Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


To explore how airborne microbial patterns change with height above the Earth’s surface, we flew NASA’s C-20A aircraft on two consecutive days in June 2018 along identical flight paths over the US Sierra Nevada mountain range at four different altitudes ranging from 10,000 ft to 40,000 ft. Bioaerosols were analyzed by metagenomic DNA sequencing and traditional culturing methods to characterize the composition and diversity of atmospheric samples compared to experimental controls. The relative abundance of taxa changed significantly at each altitude sampled, and the diversity profile shifted across the two sampling days, revealing a regional atmospheric microbiome that is dynamically changing. The most proportionally abundant microbial genera were Mycobacterium and Achromobacter at 10,000 ft; Stenotrophomonas and Achromobacter at 20,000 ft; Delftia and Pseudoperonospora at 30,000 ft; and Alcaligenes and Penicillium at 40,000 ft. Culture-based detections also identified viable Bacillus zhangzhouensis, Bacillus pumilus, and Bacillus spp. in the upper troposphere. To estimate bioaerosol dispersal, we developed a human exposure likelihood model (7-day forecast) using general aerosol characteristics and measured meteorological conditions. By coupling metagenomics to a predictive atmospheric model, we aim to set the stage for field campaigns that monitor global bioaerosol emissions and impacts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number12399
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


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