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Surprise in airborne bacteria census

BERKELEY, Calif., Dec. 19 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists, conducting a first-of-its-kind census, found Texas air teeming with more than 1,800 types of bacteria.

The researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory used a DNA test to catalog bacteria in air samples taken from San Antonio and Austin, Texas.

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They said some 1,800 types of bacteria showed up in the samples.

They said the widely varied bacterial population rivaled the diversity found in soil. They also found naturally occurring relatives of microbes that could be used in bioterrorist attacks.

"Before this study, no one had a sense of the diversity of the microbes in the air," said lead author Gary Andersen, who noted the findings pave the way for regional bacterial censuses that will help a Department of Homeland Security bioterrorism surveillance program differentiate between normal and suspicious fluctuations in airborne pathogens.

The study will also help scientists establish a baseline of airborne microbes, which they can use to track how climate change affects bacterial populations.

The research appears in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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