It is defined as a discovery “that has implications for our understanding of the air we breathe” made by a group of chemists at the University of California at Irvine. The researchers have discovered the presence in the air of extremely small pieces, measuring about 30 nanometers in diameter, of fungi.
To be precise, as Michael Lawler, the main author of the study, explains, these are fragments that are most likely small pieces of fungal spores: “It was unexpected to identify them as fragments of fungi. The appearance of a large number of atmospheric nanoparticles is usually attributed to gas reactions in the atmosphere, which grow from molecules rather than larger particles.”
According to the researcher, who carried out the study together with James Smith, professor of chemistry, these small pieces of fungal spores are also easier to inhale in the lungs than the cells themselves, which can have a diameter of thousands of nanometres. This means that these particles can, at least theoretically, contribute more to the spread of allergic reactions, such as asthma, and in general to problems for more sensitive people.
They could also be responsible for more ice cloud creation, as Lawler explains: “Large intact biological cells are extremely rare in the atmosphere, but we have identified fungal nanoparticles in higher concentrations of order of magnitude, so if some or all of these are good ice nuclei, they could play a role in ice cloud formation.”