Question: Question: Can the passive PM kit be used to sample microbes at altitude?

nshapiro is asking a question about passive-pm
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by nshapiro | June 07, 2016 17:17 | #13172

What I want to do or know

I'm wondering can the passive PM kit could be adapted to sample not just dust but also microbes? could ImageJ see bacteria?

if so what adjustments might be needed? if not what massive overhauls would be need?

Background story

I'm wondering if we attached a passive pm monitor to a solar balloon if we could take a sample of the bacteria that are found at attitude, in addition to getting an idea of the total pm load of the trip.

This is a question in relation to Public Lab's ongoing conversation with Tomas Saraceno about solar balloon travel and the potential uses of this means of flight.

Since 2003 Craig Venter has been traveling the ocean on his yacht, taking samples, and privatizing the genome of the bacteria of the sea. It would be amazing to be able to use solar saloons to capture the biome of the air and prevent that information from being privatized.

Additionally, if the passive PM monitor and imaging could be used for bacteria that would be interesting for micro-biome research in homes and assessing the potential side effects of our bacteria-based indoor air quality remediation kits.


This question has come up before, at EcoHack 2012, when @kosamari DIY manufactured cotton candy using a sodacan, power drill, a box of sugar, and a campstove as a prototype for a sterile sugar matrix that could go up on the balloon and collect aerial microbes. At the time, bioinformatics PhD Andrew Hill of CartoDB was working with Jonathan Eisen regarding atmospheric microbial censuses:

The outstanding question seemed to be, if i recall, how to keep the matrix sterile until it was at altitude. I'd be happy to facilitate any connections that might be helpful, let me know.

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Hi Nick, I think you could collect particles at altitude, since the wind hitting a free-flight balloon should be within the range that the Passive PM housing can manage. the samples need to be out for 7 days to get a deposition, and the equations expect an average pressure and temperature for that period.

I don't know anything about microbe collection though.

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Thanks @liz ! the sterile sugar matrix sounds amazing. @kosamari is cost the reason for the sugar matrix over petri dishes? Keeping the media sterile upon decent could be difficult. Potentially the expansion of the balloon at altitude could open an close the sterile media?

i found this article that seemed to validate some low cost passive means of microbial assessment

I don't think we will be able to collect for 7 days with solar balloons. we would probably have 12 hours flights at the longest. Thanks for the head's up @mathew that this might cause some difficulties if we were seeking more-than-perforative images and data. These flights would be in Argentina, but plans are very much in flux.

Thanks y'all!

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I think the original idea about what kind of thing to haul up into the sky was that it would be a like a sponge, allowing the air to pass through and offering LOTS of tasty surface area. Conversation drifted (pun intended) to the DIY idea of loosely spun sugar. Great time to reach out to a microbial biologist!

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