Israeli researchers find harmful bacteria and its risks


By now, we have all heard of the visible filth, including microplastics, floating in and lying at the bottom of our ocean and seas, including the nearly closed Mediterranean. But there’s more – potentially harmful bacteria and viruses that are invisible to the human eye and can spread diseases and launch pandemics involving creatures in the water and animals and humans on their shores.

Those tiny organisms, found everywhere on the Earth’s surface, are also important in influencing various processes, including soil health, pollutant decomposition, agricultural growth, and carbon sequestration.

Bacteria constitute about 70% of marine biomass and play a very significant role in biogeochemical processes. Although they impact carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur cycles, little is known about their distribution and role in the environment.

While scientists have identified the microbes, they have been in the dark about how they travel. The research focuses, among other things, on the mutual influence (bio-exchanges) of the oceans and the atmosphere on the transportation of bacteria over the oceans. 

Dr. Naama Lang-Yona, now at the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and formerly of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot and other Weizmann researchers, have been investigating a lesser-known aspect related to those microorganisms – their distribution mechanisms, survival, and activity in the atmosphere.

Active bacteria found above the oceans. (credit: Multidisciplinary Journal of Microbial Ecology)

Understanding disease transmission 

Their studies have dramatic implications for understanding the transmission of diseases and pandemics, as well as for devising strategies to slow their dissemination.

In a new article published in the Multidisciplinary Journal of Microbial Ecology under the title “Impact of airborne algicidal bacteria on marine phytoplankton blooms,” Lang-Yona in Haifa and scientists at Weizmann – Dr. J. Michel Flores, Prof. Ilan Koren, and Prof. Assaf Vardi describe active bacteria found above the oceans. 

One of these bacteria, Roseovarius nubinhibens, is capable of killing algae. The research found that this bacterium is released into the atmosphere with the aerosol rising from ocean waters during the blooming of Emiliania huxleyi  algae. While in the air, it managed to survive, preserving its ability to infect algae. These capabilities allow such disease-causing bacteria to expand their infection range and impact algal blooms spreading over thousands of square kilometers in the ocean.

Lang-Yona has published articles focusing on genomic mapping of airborne microbial populations (bioaerosols), which migrate thousands of kilometers above oceans, the dissemination of antibiotic-resistant genes through the air, combined with the impact of climate change and air pollution on respiratory allergens (aero-allergens), the airborne transport of endotoxins, the characterization of different microorganisms in the environment such as allergenic cyanobacteria, and the spread of airborne plant pathogens, and more.

Currently, she and her team are conducting research on the distribution of bacteria via dust storms reaching Israel all the way from the Sahara and Arabian deserts with the aim of understanding the survival mechanisms and distinctive traits of these pathogens. In addition, they are examining the idea that along with the bacteria carried and dispersed in the air, antibiotic resistance may also disperse and propagate across continents.    

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