A bacterial census of the air above two Texas cities reveals striking microbial diversity, according to a report to be published this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition. Gary Andersen, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and colleagues used a novel microarray to detect some 1,800 different bacterial species -- including relatives of bioterror pathogens -- in the skies above San Antonio and Austin, Texas, revealing a level of diversity approaching that found in soil. According to Andersen, the study arose out of the Department of Homeland Security's BioWatch program, an effort to monitor the skies over urban areas for signs of bioterrorism. After three years of monitoring, he said, DHS had detected nothing, despite several false-positives. "They wondered, what is the microbial background, and how does that background affect monitoring?" Andersen explained.He and his team developed a novel microarray called...

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