Summary: Approximately 5,130 Tg of forest, grassland, and agricultural biomass burns annually producing ~38.5 Tg of fine particulate matter emissions globally each year. Airborne particles containing microorganisms or their derived organic compounds (e.g. endotoxins, microbial fragments, metabolites), or bioaerosols, have been shown to comprise up to 25% of global emissions of particulate matter (PM) up to 2.5 um in size (PM2.5) and 50% of the carbonaceous component in air pollution studies. The proportion of bioaerosols which survive combustion-driven aerosolization processes has yet to be determined. If living, microbial components of biomass bioaerosols (e.g. fungi and bacteria) may be pathogenic, beneficial, or have neutral effects where they are deposited, and may affect human health and microbial communities and their roles in both atmospheric and terrestrial environments. Aerial transport of viable microbes is widely recognized for its impacts on microbial biodiversity, allergens and diseases affecting human health, forest or crop pathogens, and cloud formation.  My research addresses these various implications, each with consequences for human health and society, by characterizing and quantifying the living microbes in wildland fire combustion-derived smoke.

Minimum classes: Biology 101 and 102 or equivalent

Projects: My lab currently has opportunities for students to participate in active smoke sampling both in the field (e.g on wildfires and prescribed burns) and in the University of Idaho combustion laboratory, where students would participate in controlled fire experiments. Samples are then assessed for what microbial colony forming units are grown on petri-dishes, and their identification is pursued. Colonies with particular relevance to human health are quantified and compared to background air samples. There are numerous focus areas that students can pursue, depending on their interests, using different types of fuels (e.g. wood vs. crops) and assessing different classes and sizes of aerosolized organisms and/or particulate matter, both of which can affect human health. Experience with microbiology or fire are preferred but not required.

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