Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Studying Dust in the Wind

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Studying Dust in the Wind

Article excerpt

A University of Florida (UF) researcher is exploring whether the next plant, animal, or human health threats will come from the sky. Using the first ever high-altitude sampling device designed to collect microorganisms from the upper atmosphere, Andrew Schuerger, an aerobiologist, will examine the massive dust clouds that roll into Florida from Africa each year.

The maiden flight of the device, known as Dust at Altitude Recovery Technology (DART), was flown on an F-104 Starfighter jet in December at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.

Schuerger, a member of UF's plant pathology department, will work to identify the frequency and types of microbes in African dust, including whether pathogens are present, and hopes the research will lead to computer models for predicting future disease outbreaks.

"A tremendous amount of African dust comes into the United States each year, approximately 50 million metric tons annually," Schuerger says. "And very little is known about the microbial diversity in that dust, in general, but also in particular whether they're plant, animal, or human pathogens."

Previous dust collection devices were deployed on tops of tall buildings or towers but never able to fly through several layers of dust, as does the DART device--strapped under the F-104's wing. …

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