Wild grass releases a variety of particles into the air


Living organisms release particles such as fungal spores, pollen, bacteria, viruses, algae, and cell debris. In the atmosphere, these particles can serve as nuclei for cloud droplets and ice crystals. These particles are released by the aerial parts of plants, mainly stems and leaves. These plant parts are among the most widespread microbial habitats on Earth. However, scientists know little about how this microbiome changes throughout a plant’s life cycle. Today, a multi-institutional research team reported the first characterization of biological particles produced during the life cycle of Brachypodium distachyona wild but commonly used model grass.

The impact

Understanding differences in the type and composition of biological particles released during a plant’s life cycle helps scientists understand plant systems. This includes more accurate and reliable information on the structural, functional and biochemical properties of plant systems, and the interactions between plants and their microbial communities. In addition, this study provides information on particle emission from the biosphere for use in Earth system models.


A team of scientists from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Purdue University, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Irvine characterized the primary biological particles produced by grass leaves and stems. Brachypodium distachyona common model for biofuel” aria-label=”energy”>energy and food crops, throughout its life cycle. They collected particles at eight different developmental stages, from leaf development to the last season of plant life Then they analyzed particle morphology, elemental composition and abundance of functional groups using various types of microspectroscopy platforms They performed computer-controlled scanning electron microscopy with ray analyzes Energy dispersive x-ray and environmental scanning electron microscopy at the Molecular Environmental Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), a Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science user facility, as part of the Platform for integrated research in molecular bioimaging of the establishment.

In their analysis, the researchers distinguished spores, bacteria, plant fragments and other types of biological particles in the leaves and stems of the plants. Fungal spores were most abundant during the just before flowering stage, while bacteria were most abundant during the flowering and fruit development stages. By highlighting the type and abundance of microbial community composition of aboveground plant tissues, the results of this study could lead to a better predictive understanding of the various physiological and environmental factors that influence microbial interactions in these tissues. The results also highlight the importance of continuing the characterization of biological particles in the phyllosphere to better understand the environmental implications.


This research was funded by the DOE Office of Science, BER program for the EMSL and Atmospheric System Research program; through a laboratory-led research and development program at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for the iPASS, PREMIS and Chemical Imaging initiatives; and by the DOE Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences for Beam Time at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Advanced Light Source.

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