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Drought increases microbe-laden dust landing in Sierras

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  • Drought increases microbe-laden dust landing in Sierras

    AUGUST 9, 2022

    by Jules Bernstein, University of California - Riverside

    Dust from all over the world is landing in the Sierra Nevada mountains carrying microbes that are toxic to both plants and humans.

    Research from UC Riverside shows higher concentrations of the dust are landing at lower elevations, where people are more likely to be hiking.

    "Pathogenic dust is becoming more of a threat as the Earth gets drier and more parched.

    ... The researchers detail the types of fungi and bacteria landing from low to high elevations in the mountains in a new Frontiers in Microbiology paper. "Some of these microbes can cause crop failures and human respiratory disease," said Maltz.

    At the lower elevations, the researchers found more powdery mildews and sooty molds, which can lead to forest blight and crop losses. They also found fungi like Cryptococcus, a sticky yeast, and the plant pathogen Alternaria, both of which can be inhaled or form infections in human lungs.

    The researchers were not surprised to learn that dust in the Sierra Nevada was a mixture of soil particles from as far away as China's Gobi Desert and as near as California's San Joaquin Valley. They were surprised, however, to learn about the mix of microbes in the dust, and where they landed in the mountains.

    ... Some dust traveling the globe and landing in the Sierra Nevada is natural, and even beneficial for mountain ecosystems. Dust carries fungi and bacteria that help decompose organic debris and enrich the soil.