A method of characterization of airborne micro-organisms in a given location involves (1) large-volume filtration of air onto glass-fiber filters; (2) accelerated extraction of membrane lipids of the collected micro-organisms by use of pressurized hot liquid; and (3) identification and quantitation of the lipids by use of gas chromatography and mass spectrometry.This method is suitable for use in both outdoor and indoor environments; for example, it can be used to measure airborne microbial contamination in buildings (“sick-building syndrome”). The classical approach to analysis of airborne micro-organisms is based on the growth of cultureable micro-organisms and does not provide an account of viable but noncultureable micro-organisms, which typically amount to more than 90 percent of the micro-organisms present. In contrast, the present method provides an account of all micro-organisms, including cultureable, noncultureable, aerobic, and anaerobic ones. The analysis of lipids according to this method makes it possible to estimate the number of viable airborne micro-organisms present in the sampled air and to obtain a quantitative profile of the general types of micro-organisms present along with some information about their physiological statuses.
This work was done by Sarah Macnaughton of Microbial Insights, Inc., for Johnson Space Center. For further information, contact the Johnson Commercial Technology Office at (281) 483-3809. MSC-22984