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Passive dust collectors for assessing airborne microbial material



Settled airborne dust is used as a surrogate for airborne exposure in studies that explore indoor microbes. In order to determine whether detecting differences in dust environments would depend on the sampler type, we compared different passive, settled dust sampling approaches with respect to displaying qualitative and quantitative aspects of the bacterial and fungal indoor microbiota.


Settled dust sampling approaches-utilizing plastic petri dishes, TefTex material, and electrostatic dustfall collectors (EDCs)-were evaluated in indoor spaces in the USA and Finland and in an experimental chamber study. The microbial content was analyzed with quantitative PCR (qPCR) to quantify total bacterial and fungal biomass and through high-throughput sequencing to examine bacterial community composition. Bacterial composition and diversity were similar within a sampling environment regardless of the sampler type. The sampling environment was the single largest predictor of microbial community composition within a study, while sampler type was found to have much less predictive power. Quantitative analyses in indoor spaces indicated highest yields using a petri dish approach, followed by sampling with EDCs and TefTex. The highest correlations between duplicate samples were observed for EDC and petri dish approaches, indicating greater experimental repeatability for these sampler types. For the EDC samples, it became apparent that, due to the fibrous nature of the material, a rigorous extraction protocol is crucial to obtain optimal yields and stable, repeatable results.


Correlations between sampler types were strong both in compositional and quantitative terms, and thus, the particular choice of passive settled dust sampler is not likely to strongly alter the overall conclusion of a study that aims to characterize dust across different environments. Microbial cell abundances determined from settled dust varied with the use of different sampling approaches, and thus, consistency in the method is necessary to allow for absolute comparisons within and among studies. Considering practical aspects, petri dishes were found to be an inexpensive, simple, and feasible approach that showed the highest quantitative determinations under typical building conditions, though the choice of sampler will ultimately depend on study logistics and characteristics such as low- or high-exposure settings.

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