Research

How Rainfall Can Spread Pathogens

Rainfall may provide a mechanism for soil bacteria to spread. A new study examines how raindrops hitting infected soil can eject bacteria into the air. When drops fall at the rate of a light rainfall, they form tiny bubbles after impact (upper left). Those microbubbles rise to the top of the water and burst, sending extremely tiny droplets – or aerosols – spraying up into the air (upper right). Soil bacteria can hitch a ride on these aerosols, staying alive for up to an hour while the wind transports them to fresh, new soil. The researchers found that the most aerosols were produced when soil temperature was about 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) – the temperature of tropical soils. Depending on the conditions, a single raindrop could aerosolize anything from zero to several thousands of soil bacteria. (Image and research credit: Y. Joung et al.; video credit: MIT News)

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