The term aerobiology was coined in the 1930s of the 20th Century, by the American plant pathologist, F. C. Meier. This term was probably parallel to hydrobiology. F. C. Meier worked for the U. S. Department of Agriculture for many years in various capacities. He was basically interested in plant diseases, which were distributed by airborne fungal spores. In order to investigate the atmosphere at various levels, in different areas and over considerable distances he worked with the famous aviator Charles A. Lindbergh known as first man to fly solo across the Atlantic in the aircraft named 'Spirit of St. Louis'.
On account of his close association with Lindbergh, he was able to carry out experiments in the air at higher altitudes by exposing a 'Sky-Hook', a special device for sampling airborne fungal spores, fragments of insects, wings. He carried out these sampling flights between Fred Campbell Meier Maine and Denmark a route, which included arctic areas. Initially he used adhesive coated microscope slides in above flights to trap suspended bioparticles. Later he used Petri dishes containing nutrient agar to trap and culture airborne fungal spores.
Meier compiled a vertical profile of fungal spores, ranging in height from 150 m to 11,000 m over Eastern United States. On the basis of his outstanding research work in a new direction, he was able to convince the National Research Council that it is worth extending this work even for other particles in air, such, as pollen known for causing hay fever. This also indicated his concern for human welfare.
He had visualized that further advances in such studies of the atmosphere could only be made by adopting an interdisciplinary approach, thus he was able to create an awareness of the importance of this kind of atmospheric study among botanists, meteorologists, zoologists, bacteriologists, plant pathologists and medical experts. In fact he gathered around him experts from the above disciplines. The ultimate result of this association of experts of different disciplines with common research interest and objective was the foundation of the Committee on Aerobiology, which met for the first time on November 12, 1937.
One of his close associates till the end was a medical adviser Dr. McKinley who was also a founder member of the Committee on Aerobiology. The committee tried to get the U. S. Government's support and other departments and collaborating agencies such as the U. S. Army, the Navy, the Coast Guards, National Research Council and also Pan American Airlines.
The end of such a dynamic research worker was very tragic. He set out on a flight from California to Manila with six other passengers including his close associate Dr. McKinley. The aeroplane, in which they were flying over the Pacific to carry out further aerobiological studies of the atmosphere, disappeared on July 29, 1938. It was later found out that the last radio message from the pilot came from an altitude of 2,750 m informing about the rainstorm. In spite of the intensive search, no trace was ever found of the aeroplane or its passengers and crew members.
Though F. C. Meier died in 1938, his ideas and inspiration and the term 'aerobiology' which he coined have survived and are flourishing today.
David Douglas Cunningham (1843-1914)
Chanda and Caulton (1990) have published a biographical profile according to which, David Douglas Cunningham's name will always be remembered by aerobiologists all over the world for his pioneering contribution to a thorough and systematic study of airborne microbes, for the first time in the tropics and probably one of the first of this kind of work in a global perspective. His monumental treatise Microscopic Examinations of Air, was published in 1873 by the Superintendent of Government Printing, Calcutta.
David Douglas Cunnigham
Prestonpans near Edinburgh on September 29,
1843. He was only 20 years old when he entered the Medical Faculty of the University of Edinburgh and graduated with honours in medicine in 1867. In 1868 he joined the Indian Medical Service, passing out of the Army Medical School at Netley topping the list in autumn that year.
Before leaving for Germany, Cunningham worked for some time with Rev. M. J. Berkeley, Fellow of the Royal Society (F. R. S.) to learn his mycological techniques at Sibbertoft. He landed in Calcutta, then the capital of India, in 1869 and was attached on special duty to the Department of Sanitary Commissioner. He was engaged, in a series of pathological studies of great interest, especially in the context of Indian conditions. During this productive period Cunningham succeeded in bringing out Microscopic Examination of Air in 1873.
He was appointed Professor of Physiology in the Medical College of Bengal. His remarkable contributions to pathology, coupled with excellent teaching qualities brought him the laurel of being elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1889.
Cunningham did intensive pathological studies in Calcutta under trying conditions. By 1897 his failing health forced him to return to England and was unable to go back to India. After attaining superannuation, Cunningham settled in Torquay, where he devoted the rest of his life to gardening, natural history and his books.
A series of field investigations into the airspora was in progress to find whether or not fluctuations in number and types of microbes present in the atmosphere were connected with outbreaks of such diseases as cholera, typhoid and malaria. In particular, Cunningham investigated the airspora utilizing a special model of the 'aeroconiscope' first devised by Maddox
(1870, 1871). The model consisted of a conical funnel, with the mouth directed into the wind by a vane, ending in a nozzle behind which a sticky microscope cover-glass was placed on which dust particles were impacted. Cunningham carried out his investigations in two Calcutta jails where cholera and other fevers were rife.
He sampled for a 24-hour period, and after microscopically examining the catches of airborne microorganisms, mainly fungal spores and pollen grains, published their illustrations in a series of coloured plates. However, he found no correlation between these microorganisms and the incidence of fever in the jails. He concluded that moist weather decreased inorganic dusts, but it appeared to increase the total number of fungal spores.
He first served as a Secretary of the Zoological Garden of Calcutta, later as President of the Committee of Management of the same institution. He was also a Fellow of the Linnean Society and Fellow of the University of Calcutta. In 1880, for a short period he acted as Superintendent of the Calcuttta Botanic Garden. After his retirement he was made an honorary physician to King George V, honorary surgeon to the Viceroy of India, and also a Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire. He passed away on December 31, 1914 at Torquay, Devon, U.K.
Charles H. Blackley (1820-1900)
The classical work of Charles H. Blackley entitled 'Experimental researches on the causes and nature of Catarrhus Aestivus' published in 1873, is always quoted by aerobiologists as one of the most generally accepted being the first text giving evidence of airborne pollen as the cause of hay fever. Blackley's most cited experiment dealt with the collection of airborne particles using kites.
Hay asthma had its birth place in England, and was first described by Bostock (1819), to whom we owe the designation of 'summer catarrah'. With regard to grass pollen allergy Blackley had stated that "the disease does not usually appear till the grass comes in flower: and as long as any flower remaining on the grass, the disease continues". If the influence arises from grass, it is not necessary it should be cut and dried, which means the presence of hay is not essential and the warmer the weather, and more advanced the vegetation, the earlier does it show itself.
Experiments on the Presumed Cause of Allergy
This first experiment in 1859 was accidental , a small cloud of pollen was detached from a bunch of Poa nemoralis placed in a vase and came in close
proximity to his face. "I commenced sneezing violently, and I had a smart though short attack I was satisfied that my symptoms were due to the pollen"
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