Detection and characterisation of inflammatory agents associated with bioaerosol emitted from biowaste and intensive agriculture


The biowaste (eg composting) and intensive agriculture (eg housed poultry / pigs) industries emit bioaerosol of significance to human health. Whilst some progress has been made in characterising emissions from these industries relatively little headway has been made regarding the linked research questions of: understanding exposure of the general public to bioaerosol; putting process-based exposures into the context of background exposure to natural bioaerosol (or other anthropogenic sources); quantifying health risk and setting health-based standards. A critical limiting factor in all of these areas is the lack of advanced microbiological methods (sampling, analytical, interpretative) to quantify and qualify bioaerosol emissions and dispersion. Our current evidence base is almost entirely reliant on short duration "snapshot" sampling and culture-dependent microbiology. Whilst traditional microbiology remains fit for purpose in specific circumstances, new fast and efficient methods are needed to understand the nature and significance of non-viable bioaerosol fractions and to develop a new generation of monitoring approaches to deal with the research questions posed above. Aerosolised endotoxin is an attractive research subject in the context of this NERC programme. It is ubiquitous in biowaste and agricultural emissions. Previous occupational bioaerosol research has established an exposure-response relationship. In the Netherlands, endotoxin is regarded as the prime candidate for health-based bioaerosol emission limits / exposure guidelines for workers and the public. Yet, confidence in the development and implementation of evidence-based regulation of this bioaerosol molecule continues to be constrained by gaps in our fundamental understanding of the nature of endotoxin in ambient air which in turn stems from limitations in measurement techniques. In this research we aim to develop new methodologies capable of characterising and quantifying emissions of endotoxin in air. Objectives - develop new methods to size fractionate endotoxin and elucidate structural features; - develop a novel biosensor for rapid detection of endotoxin, other inflammatory agents and cells (live/dead) - use the WIBS real-time bioaerosol sensor to understand emission and dispersion of bioaerosol including endotoxin - characterise industry-specific bioaerosol emissions at composting and farm sites - detect microbial pathogens at biowaste and intensive agricultural facilities using novel methods - generate improved exposure assessments around biowaste / intensive agricultural facilities using dispersion modelling and Openair. Whilst our work plan focuses on new endotoxin detection methods we are cogniscent of the fact that there are other biomolecules in air that promote inflammation when inhaled. These will be detected by the novel biosensor and we aim to distinguish the signalling pathways and demonstrate how the cells respond to different biomolecular challenges. The research team has unparalleled experience in translating cutting edge bioaerosol science into policy and practice. Uncertainty with respect to health effects from regulated industrial processes is deleterious to all stakeholders concerned including the public, regulators, the Government, industry and investors. The public remains fearful of the potential health impacts. Regulators face uncertainty in terms of striking the right balance between public health protection and encouraging economic development. Planning and licensing delays constrain Government waste strategy and economic development initiatives and create problems for entrepreneurs trying to deliver Government targets and establish viable businesses. Whilst this research will be underpinned by excellent new science, it is clear that the impact agenda is driven by the potential for translating this into a regulatory science evidence base, new regulatory guidance and models for the protection of public health

Principal Investigators

Professor S Tyrrel, Cranfield University, School of Water, Energy and Environment

Dr TL Gladding, Open University, Faculty of Sci, Tech, Eng & Maths

Professor S Jackson, University of Plymouth, School of Biomedical and Healthcare Sciences

Dr ET Hayes, University of the West of England, Faculty of Environment and Technology


Dr G Fejer, University of Plymouth, School of Biomedical and Healthcare Sciences

Dr GH Drew, Cranfield University, School of Water, Energy and Environment

Professor SJT Pollard, Cranfield University, School of Water, Energy and Environment

[see grants on the web]

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