Deciphering the source of primary biological aerosol particles: a pollen case study
Primary biological aerosol particles (PBAPs) are microscopic solids suspended in the atmosphere emitted by biological systems and play critical roles in the atmosphere and at the atmosphere-biosphere interface, impacting human health, climate, and the ecosystem function. Understanding the sources of PBAPs is necessary to decipher the mechanistic interactions between aerosols, climate, and distinct ecosystem components. However, the detection of specific PBAPs in complex ambient aerosol samples is challenging. We performed metabolomics analyses of pollen from three pollinating tree species and ambient samples collected during the peak pollination period of each species. Random Forest and sPLS-DA machine learning methods were employed to evaluate whether metabolic signatures of ambient samples can reveal the source of the main pollen particles present in the atmosphere. Our results suggest that atmospheric eco-metabolomics techniques combined with sophisticated statistical methods can decipher the origin of abundant PBAPs from complex ambient samples. Developing complete libraries containing high-resolution metabolomic fingerprints of the major PBAPs present in the atmosphere would significantly advance future research to accurately understand the role of PBAPs in the atmosphere, ecosystems and human health.