, Volume 27, Issue 1, pp 25–35 | Cite as

Observations on the use of membrane filtration and liquid impingement to collect airborne microorganisms in various atmospheric environments

  • Dale W. Griffin
  • Cristina Gonzalez
  • Nuria Teigell
  • Terry Petrosky
  • Diana E. Northup
  • Mark Lyles
Original Paper


The influence of sample-collection-time on the recovery of culturable airborne microorganisms using a low-flow-rate membrane-filtration unit and a high-flow-rate liquid impinger were investigated. Differences in recoveries were investigated in four different atmospheric environments, one mid-oceanic at an altitude of ~10.0 m, one on a mountain top at an altitude of ~3,000.0 m, one at ~1.0 m altitude in Tallahassee, Florida, and one at ~1.0 m above ground in a subterranean-cave. Regarding use of membrane filtration, a common trend was observed: the shorter the collection period, the higher the recovery of culturable bacteria and fungi. These data also demonstrated that lower culturable counts were common in the more remote mid-oceanic and mountain-top atmospheric environments with bacteria, fungi, and total numbers averaging (by sample time or method categories) <3.0 colony-forming units (CFU) m−3. At the Florida and subterranean sites, the lowest average count noted was 3.5 bacteria CFU m−3, and the highest averaged 140.4 total CFU m−3. When atmospheric temperature allowed use, the high-volume liquid impinger utilized in this study resulted in much higher recoveries, as much as 10× greater in a number of the categories (bacterial, fungal, and total CFU). Together, these data illustrated that (1) the high-volume liquid impinger is clearly superior to membrane filtration for aeromicrobiology studies if start-up costs are not an issue and temperature permits use; (2) although membrane filtration is more cost friendly and has a ‘typically’ wider operational range, its limits include loss of cell viability with increased sample time and issues with effectively extracting nucleic acids for community-based analyses; (3) the ability to recover culturable microorganisms is limited in ‘extreme’ atmospheric environments and thus the use of a ‘limited’ methodology in these environments must be taken into account; and (4) the atmosphere culls, i.e., everything is not everywhere.


Bacteria Fungi Methods Membrane filtration Liquid impingement Aeromicrobiology Microbiology 



Appreciation is extended to Dr. Dan Jaffe of University of Washington at Bothell for support at Mount Bachelor Observatory and Dale Pate and Paul Burger of the U.S. National Park Service for assistance at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.


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Copyright information

© US Government 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dale W. Griffin
    • 1
  • Cristina Gonzalez
    • 2
  • Nuria Teigell
    • 2
  • Terry Petrosky
    • 3
  • Diana E. Northup
    • 4
  • Mark Lyles
    • 5
  1. 1.US Geological Survey, Geologic DisciplineTallahasseeUSA
  2. 2.University of La Laguna, University Institute of Tropical Diseases and Public HealthLa Laguna, Tenerife, Canary IslandsSpain
  3. 3.US Geological Survey, Water Resources DisciplineTallahasseeUSA
  4. 4.University of New Mexico, BiologyAlbuquerqueUSA
  5. 5.US Navy, Research Program Integration and Mission Development, Bureau of Medicine and SurgeryWashingtonUSA

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