Dr. Natasha de Leon

Institution: Interamerican University Metropolitan Campus

Email: ndeleon@intermetro.edu

Characterization of the pathogenic potential of microbial communities associated to Sarahan Dust events in Puerto Rico

Climate change is rapidly changing the intensity of and increasing atmospheric events, such as Saharan dust events. Research has identified the presence of microorganisms traveling long distances through these events which poses a health issue, especially for those with respiratory conditions and skin allergies. Still, there is a gap in knowledge since studies understanding the microbial populations present in the Saharan Dust that reach Puerto Rico are limited and few. There is a critical need to provide an insight about the microbial populations associated with Saharan dust and possible could be involve in antibiotic resistance, pathogenicity, and mechanisms to survive harsh environments. For that reason, our long-term goal of the proposed research is to understand the role of bacteria associated to Saharan dust in human health. Our objective is that by the end of the project period provide a characterization of the microbial population (bacteria and fungi) and the resistome and pathogenicity associated to the Saharan Dust reaching Puerto Rico. The rationale behind this project relates to the collective results from previous studies that led to hypothesized that microbes associated to Saharan Dust events could be responsible for some health issues experienced during the summer. In addition to the overarching idea that soil, in this case dust, could be a reservoir of antibiotic resistance and pathogenicity genes. The central hypothesis is the follow: the presence of Saharan dust results in a shift of microbial populations including an enrichment of potential pathogens and an increase in pathogenic and antibiotic resistance genes in the boundary layer in Puerto Rico during the summer of 2022. The Specific Aim 1 is to characterize the microbial population associated with the Sahara Dust (SD) arriving in Puerto Rico during the summer months (May- August) of 2022 using 16S rRNA and ITS rRNA amplicon analysis. The Specific Aim 2 is to analyze genome sequences to identify the genetic pathways allowing potential bacterial pathogens to survive and thrive in extreme traveling conditions such as the Saharan dust. This project will impact the field of aerobiology and genomics providing new insights in the role of Saharan dust in human health.