Assessing the Airborne Survival of Bacteria in Populations of Aerosol Droplets with a Novel Technology

Mara Otero Fernandez, Richard Thomas, Natalie Garton, Andrew Hudson, Allen Haddrell, Jonathan Reid

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)
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The airborne transmission of infection relies on the ability of pathogens to survive aerosol transport as they transit between hosts. Understanding the parameters that determine the survival of airborne microorganisms is critical to mitigating the impact of disease outbreaks. Conventional techniques for investigating bioaerosol longevity in vitro have systemic limitations that prevent the accurate representation of conditions that these particles would experience in the natural environment. Here, we report a new approach that enables the robust study of bioaerosol survival as a function of relevant environmental conditions. The methodology utilizes droplet-on-demand technology for the generation of bioaerosol droplets (1 to >100 per trial) with tailored chemical and biological composition. These arrays of droplets are captured in an electrodynamic trap and levitated within a controlled environmental chamber. Droplets are then deposited on a substrate after a desired levitation period (<5 seconds to >24 hours). The response of bacteria to aerosolisation can subsequently be determined by counting colony forming units, 24 hours after deposition. In a first study, droplets formed from a suspension of Escherichia coli MRE162 cells (108 mL-1) with initial radii of 27.8 ±0.08 µm were created and levitated for extended periods of time at 30% relative humidity. The time-dependence of the survival rate was measured over a time period extending to 1 hour. We demonstrate that this approach can enable direct studies at the interface between aerobiology, atmospheric chemistry and aerosol physics to identify the factors that may affect the survival of airborne pathogens with the aim of developing infection control strategies for public health and biodefence applications.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20180779
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number150
Early online date23 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019


  • airborne transmission
  • aerosol transport.
  • infection
  • bioaerosol
  • survival


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