Biology

Bubbles Can Be Bacteria-Spreading Menaces

The researchers of the study concluded that a single droplet can carry thousands of microorganisms, and each bubble is estimated to carry hundreds of droplets.

By: Alexandria Addesso

Tiny bubbles make me happy, or so the song goes. Bubbles are often associated with childhood and innocence, blowing bubbles or bubble baths can usually invoke memories from easier times and even be relaxing. But how do bubbles form in nature and can they be harmful?
 
A recent study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) examined how bubbles contaminated with bacteria can act as tiny microbial grenades. When these bacteria ridden bubbles burst, they launch microorganisms, including potential pathogens, out of the water  nand into the air. The study was published in the journal Physical Review Letters and the researchers found that bacteria can affect a bubble’s longevity: A bacteria-covered bubble floating at the water’s surface can last more than 10 times longer than an uncontaminated one can, with a lifespan of minutes instead of seconds. As we know, bubbles usually tend to burst rather quickly, especially when they are touch by an outside source.
 

During the lifespan of a bacteria contaminated bubble, the cap of the contaminated bubble thins. As the bubbler grows thinner, the number of droplets it can launch into the air when the bubble inevitably bursts increases to a much higher degree. A single droplet, the researchers estimate, can carry up to thousands of microorganisms, and each bubble can emit hundreds of droplets.

“We discovered bacteria can manipulate interfaces in a manner that can enhance their own water-to-air dispersal,” said the assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Fluid Dynamics of Disease Transmission Laboratory at MIT Lydia Bourouiba.

A wonderful serenity has taken possession of my entire soul, like these sweet mornings of spring which I enjoy with my whole heart. I am alone, and feel the charm of existence in this spot, which was created for the bliss of souls like mine. I am so happy, my dear friend, so absorbed in the exquisite sense of mere tranquil existence, that I neglect my talent.

But what exactly happens when these bubbles burst?

 The thinner bubbles create 10 times more droplets, and these droplets were ejected at a rate that was 10 times faster than it was for clean bubbles. The researchers of the study came to the conclusion that a single droplet can carry thousands of microorganisms, and each bubble is estimated to carry hundreds of
droplets. The same group of researchers used high-speed imaging to study droplets released from a human sneeze.

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