The Inhalable Mycobiome of Sawmill Workers: Exposure Characterization and Diversity.

Anne Straumfors, Oda A H Foss, Janina Fuss, Steen K Mollerup, Håvard Kauserud, Sunil Mundra
Year of publication:
Journal title abbreviated:
Appl. Environ. Microbiol.
Journal title long:
Applied and environmental microbiology
Impact factor:
Exposure to fungal spores has been associated with respiratory symptoms and allergic alveolitis among sawmill workers, but the complexity of sawmill workers' fungal exposure has been poorly studied. We characterized the fungal diversity in air samples from sawmill workers' breathing zones and identified differences in the richness, diversity, and taxonomic composition between companies, departments, wood types, and seasons. Full-shift personal inhalable dust samples (n = 86) collected from 11 industrial sawmill, sorting mill, and planer mill companies processing spruce and/or pine were subjected to DNA metabarcoding using the fungal internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region 2. The workers were exposed to a higher total number of operational taxonomic units (OTUs) in summer than in winter and when processing spruce than when processing pine. Workers in the saw department had the richest fungal exposure, followed by workers in the planing department and sorting of dry timber department. Sawmills explained 11% of the variation in the fungal community composition of the exposure, followed by season (5%) and department (3%). The fungal compositions of the exposures also differed between seasons, sawmills, wood types, and departments at the taxonomic level, ranging from the phylum to the species level. The differences in exposure diversity suggest that the potential health effects of fungal inhalation may also be different; hence, a risk assessment based on the fungal diversity differences should be performed. This study may serve as a basis for establishing a fungal profile of signature species that are specific for sawmills and that can be measured quantitatively in future risk assessments of sawmill workers.IMPORTANCE To gain more knowledge about exposure-response relationships, it is important to improve exposure characterization by comprehensively identifying the temporal and spatial fungal composition and diversity of inhalable dust at workplaces. The variation in the diverse fungal communities to which individuals are exposed in different seasons and sawmills suggests that variations in exposure-related health effects between seasons and companies can be expected. More importantly, the distinct fungal profiles between departments across companies indicate that workers in different job groups are differently exposed and that health risks can be department specific. DNA metabarcoding provides insight into a broad spectrum of airborne fungi that may serve as a basis for obtaining important knowledge about the fungi to which workers are exposed.