In order to capture air samples, his device collects samples onto a filter at predetermined intervals, catching microorganisms and biological material, which he then prepares for sequencing. “The initial results were very surprising. We were able to DNA sequence not only fungal and bacterial microorganisms, but also identify various plants, insects and even human DNA.” he says.
The ultimate goal is tracking changes seen in the air over time: Linking collection data to environmental differences over time could have applications with mitigating the impacts of climate change, influence agriculture, public health, and even apply to food biosecurity. Chooneea’s research project has become a fundamental step in documenting the biodiversity contained within the air’s ecosystem. “Nature is always in a state of flux. There is constant change above and around us. Seasonally, we see changes. In spring and summer, there’s more plant material and pollen kicking around, and when it gets wet, you can pick up more fungi spores. Also, various locations and environments have different background profiles.”
Studying the changes in air ecology over time will allow us to identify and understand its typical components. This information would be particularly useful for the agriculture industry. “With consistent sampling you would pick up, for example, a certain fungal pathogen capable of destroying soybeans. An early detection system could warn farmers that a pathogen is coming, enabling them to prepare a targeted treatment method saving them time and money while also saving the crop.” This same air sampling technology also has applications with food security, public health, and detecting bioterrorism threats.