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What is Aerobiology?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Aerobiology is a field which focuses on the study of particles which are small enough to be passively carried in the air. These particles are often biological in origin, but this field is not just a subset of biology. Aerobiologists can come from a number of different backgrounds, and can apply their knowledge in a variety of ways. For example, the meteorologists who do pollen counts are actually practicing a form of aerobiology.

This field involves the intersection of a number of fields of study. Aerobiologists need to know about weather patterns and how air behaves, and they also study the nature of airborne particles such as pollen, viruses, dust, and even small organisms like bacteria and protozoa. Reseachers can work in the field, taking air samples to learn more about how things are carried by the weather, and they can also be involved in lab work, identifying and studying various particles.

From a health perspective, aerobiology is an important field because a number of agents of disease can be carried through the air. Learning about how these particles move can help establish methods which can be used to control the spread of disease. This is also important for agriculture, where aerobiologists look at how fungal spores and bacteria transfer via air from field to field. The pollen counts distributed in communities where pollen becomes a health issue in the spring are also the result of aerobiology, with researchers using understanding of how pollen moves to predict where pollen will be heaviest so that people with allergies can be told to avoid these areas.

Aerobiology research also takes place in the field of ecology. Ecologists study how things like pollen move through an ecosystem, and they also look at the impact of human-produced particles on the natural environment. Soot, for example, is produced as a byproduct of industrial processes and it can have a profound environmental impact. These researchers also look at organisms in the natural environment which are affected by airborne particles.

Organizations and governments concerned about terrorism also find this field a topic of interest. Aerosolized delivery of biological or chemical weapons could be very dangerous, especially in an urban area. Understanding how chemical and biological agents can be weaponized and distributed in aerosol form can be an important first step to developing methods of biodefense which will protect communities from terrorist activities. This area of study is sometimes controversial, as some advocates have pointed out that developing aerosolized weapons for research can look an awful lot like developing aerosolized weapons for military use.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon125606 — On Nov 10, 2010

It's nice to see such wonderful information but i'm an msc student. can i get more information?

By surreallife — On Feb 15, 2010

I wonder if this is a newer field of study. I have not been aware that you can get a bachelors degree in aerobiology. Can you?

It does look to me as the field of study of the future, a good field for a college bound student to consider. I can see great benefits for the public health field as well as agriculture.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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