Using flow cytometry and light-induced fluorescence to characterize the variability and characteristics of bioaerosols in springtime in Metro Atlanta, Georgia


The abundance and speciation of primary biological aerosol particles (PBAP) is important for understanding their impacts on human health, cloud formation, and ecosystems. Towards this, we have developed a protocol for quantifying PBAP collected from large volumes of air with a portable wet-walled cyclone bioaerosol sampler. A flow cytometry (FCM) protocol was then developed to quantify and characterize the PBAP populations from the sampler, which were confirmed against epifluorescence microscopy. The sampling system and FCM analysis were used to study PBAP in Atlanta, GA, over a 2-month period and showed clearly defined populations of nucleic-acid-containing particles: low nucleic acid-content particles above threshold (LNA-AT) and high nucleic acid-content particles (HNA) likely containing wet-ejected fungal spores and pollen. We find that the dailyaverage springtime PBAP concentration (1 to 5 μ m diameter) ranged between 1:4 × 104 and 1:1 × 105 m-3. The LNA-AT population dominated PBAP during dry days (72 ± 18 %); HNA dominated the PBAP during humid days and following rain events, where HNA comprised up to 92 % of the PBAP number. Concurrent measurements with a Wideband Integrated Bioaerosol Sensor (WIBS-4A) showed that fluorescent biological aerosol particles (FBAP) and total FCM counts are similar; HNA (from FCM) moderately correlated with ABC-type FBAP concentrations throughout the sampling period (and for the same particle size range, 1-5 μ m diameter). However, the FCM LNA-AT population, possibly containing bacterial cells, did not correlate with any FBAP type. The lack of correlation of any WIBS FBAP type with the LNA-AT suggests that airborne bacterial cells may be more difficult to unambiguously detect with autofluorescence than currently thought. Identification of bacterial cells even in the FCM (LNA-AT population) is challenging, given that the fluorescence level of stained cells at times may be comparable to that seen from abiotic particles. HNA and ABC displayed the highest concentration on a humid and warm day after a rain event (14 April 2015), suggesting that both populations correspond to wet-ejected fungal spores. Overall, information from both instruments combined reveals a highly dynamic airborne bioaerosol community over Atlanta, with a considerable presence of fungal spores during humid days and an LNA-AT population dominating the bioaerosol community during dry days.