The term aerobiology was coined as early as 1930s by F. C. Meier who was the plant pathologist working in the Department of Agriculture, United States of America. However, this does not mean that aerobiological studies were not carried out prior to the 1930's. In fact, the preliminary aerobiological work and its applications to health and environmental pollution dates back to the period of the Vedas c. 3000 B.C.
Aerobiology involves the study of airborne bioparticles, that is, particles of biological origin (both from plants as well as animals). Subsequent to the 1930s, aerobiology was classified basically into indoor aerobiology and outdoor aerobiology. Some aerobiologists preferred to segregate the study of airborne pollen into a sub branch of aerobiology termed as 'aeropalynology'. The mycologists and plant pathologists preferred to study airborne fungal spores under a separate sub branch of aerobiology termed as 'aeromycology'.
Studies that deal primarily with pollen that are airborne may be called aeropalynology. Air contains many kinds of contaminants, organic and inorganic, having great diversity in size, shape, density and many other characteristics. According to Gregory (1961, 1973), aerobiology is usually understood to be the study of passively airborne microorganisms, their identity, behaviour, movements and survival. This field of science includes: identification, morphology, physiology, viability, longevity, sampling, concentrations, diurnal and seasonal patterns, phenology, emission, transport, dispersion, pollination, pollinosis and a host of other subjects. Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) proved in his classical experiments that air is the carrier of many common germs. Aerobiology can be defined as the study of microbial population of the atmosphere, now designated as air-
Aerobiology involves study of airborne particles of plant and animal origin. These bioparticles get into the atmosphere after their release from the source. Pollen is nature's gift to mankind as it is responsible for pollination, fertilization, seed and fruit setting and multiplication of plants. However, some of the pollen after getting into air stream remain floating in the atmosphere before settling down on the ground. Some of these pollen on coming in contact with human beings induce allergic manifestations.
The primary objective of aerobiological studies is to monitor, determine and detect the occurrence of pollen and spores and their relative representation in the atmosphere. Once trapped in pollen traps or air sampling mechanism, they are microscopically scanned thoroughly in the laboratory. Though the atmosphere consists of several hundred types of pollen and fungal spores, in applied aerobiology only the ones having significance in allergy are concentrated upon.
On account of the tremendous applications of aeropalynology in public health and medicines, a new term has been added recently known as 'medical palynology'. This branch is concerned with the study of airborne pollen and fungal spores, which are responsible for causing allergic manifestations including the triggering effect leading to asthmatic attacks. (Mackay et al., 1992) In addition, various aspects of immunotherapy are investigated involving hyposensitization of allergy patients by using pollen and fungal aeroallergen extracts.
According to a recent trend, the scope of aerobiology has been widened to incorporate different kinds of biological particles (air spora) for example, viruses, bacteria, microalgae, microfungi, lichen fragments, soredia, seeds, protozoan cysts, insects and insect parts, spiders. Abiotic particles or gases affecting living organisms are also included currently in the concept of aerobiology. Various processes that are involved in the aerobiological studies are depicted in the following Flow Chart No. 13.1.
Thus, the aerobiological pathway involves at least five major steps, which are: source, liberation, passive transport, deposition and impact on vegetation, water bodies and various substrates. It is obvious that these different steps are integrated with each other and they are affected by environmental factors, such as, meteorology, physics and atmospheric chemistry.
Aerobiology has become an interdisciplinary science of great significance and applications in different fields, such as, ecology, medicine, pathology, agriculture, forestry and meteorology. There are various ways of dispersal of pollen in the atmosphere, however, the most important factor is wind which transmits pollen grains and spores from the source to the target area. Hence, windborne pollen both of flowering plants or the angiosperms and gymnospermous plants are significant in aerobiological studies.
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