Emerging investigator series : aqueous photooxidation of live bacteria with hydroxyl radicals under cloud-like conditions : insights into the production and transformation of biological and organic matter originating from bioaerosols

Research output: Journal Publications and ReviewsRGC 21 - Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
Journal / PublicationEnvironmental Science Processes & Impacts
Online published8 Jun 2023
Publication statusOnline published - 8 Jun 2023


Live bacteria in clouds are exposed to free radicals such as the hydroxyl radical (˙OH), which is the main driver of many photochemical processes. While the ˙OH photooxidation of organic matter in clouds has been widely studied, equivalent investigations on the ˙OH photooxidation of bioaerosols are limited. Little is known about the daytime encounters between ˙OH and live bacteria in clouds. Here we investigated the aqueous ˙OH photooxidation of four bacterial strains, B. subtilis, P. putida, E. hormaechei B0910, and E. hormaechei pf0910, in microcosms composed of artificial cloud water that mimicked the chemical composition of cloud water in Hong Kong. The survival rates for the four bacterial strains decreased to zero within 6 hours during exposure to 1 × 10−16 M of ˙OH under artificial sunlight. Bacterial cell damage and lysis released biological and organic compounds, which were subsequently oxidized by ˙OH. The molecular weights of some of these biological and organic compounds were >50 kDa. The O/C, H/C, and N/C ratios increased at the initial onset of photooxidation. As the photooxidation progressed, there were few changes in the H/C and N/C, whereas the O/C continued to increase for hours after all the bacterial cells had died. The increase in the O/C was due to functionalization and fragmentation reactions, which increased the O content and decreased the C content, respectively. In particular, fragmentation reactions played key roles in transforming biological and organic compounds. Fragmentation reactions cleaved the C–C bonds of carbon backbones of higher molecular weight proteinaceous-like matter to form a variety of lower molecular weight compounds, including HULIS of molecular weight <3 kDa and highly oxygenated organic compounds of molecular weight <1.2 kDa. Overall, our results provided new insights at the process level into how daytime reactive interactions between live bacteria and ˙OH in clouds contribute to the formation and transformation of organic matter.

© The Royal Society of Chemistry 2023

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