Dust-Storm - Inhalable airborne desert DUST: A comprehensive STudy On physical micro-structure, chemical composition and Respiratory toxicity of fine Mineral and anthrophogenic dust

Project realization: S. Di Bucchianico (HMGU), A. Föhlisch (University of Potsdam), A. Lausi (SESAME, Jordan), K. Lips (Free University of Berlin), R. Zimmermann (UR/HMGU)


The DUST-STORM project initiative is born as a joint interdisciplinary initiative of German and Jordan universities with the support of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) to reinforce international academic co-operation and the training of excellent young MSc level Jordanians with PhD-projects in Germany. The idea to investigate inhalable airborne desert dust in its physico-chemical characteristics and related respiratory toxicity was created during a scientific delegation journey of German scientists organized by the Helmholtz Association of Germany (HGF) to the Synchroton-Light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME) laboratory located in Allan (Jordan) and Jordan Universities. The DUST-STORM initiative is thematically linked to the Helmholtz International Lab. aeroHEALTH and aims to establish and deepen cooperation between German partners, SESAME, and Jordan Universities in the field of aerosol and health. Dust storms frequency has been rising in the last decade as a response to the effects of climate change and a number of infectious and non-infectious diseases have been associated with dust exposure including chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, asthma, and pulmonary fibrosis (Schweitzer et al., 2018). Dust particles initiate inflammatory immune responses, which play an important role in the pathogenesis of different cardiopulmonary diseases. However, recognizing desert dust particles induced cellular and molecular effects by taking into consideration the role of anthropogenic activities derived particles, e.g. soot from wood combustion or traffic emission, that potentially agglomerate with desert dust derived particles is an unexplored topic. Dust storm project aims to characterize the inhalable dust fraction in Jordan from a different area, determine the relative toxicity in lung cell model systems, identify reactive oxygen and radical species, analyze and quantify organic components as well as determine the structural and electronic properties of mineral dust grains down to the atomic level.


Expected Results

In the framework of this project, we will elucidate the key drivers within structural and electronic properties of mineral dust particles as well as within the chemical variety of organic adsorbates, which contribute to the toxicity of both collected and standard dust particles. The scientific approach comprises the comparison of locally collected airborne mineral dusts (particulate matter PM10), desert dust samples, standard dusts (Arizona Test Dust), NIST urban dust, and soot. Electronic structure, chemical properties, and biological effects will be investigated. Submersed exposure of human pulmonary epithelial cells and other relevant cell models, including disease-oriented co-culture models, to the collected aerosol particles, will reveal their typical effect strengths via analysis of cytotoxic, inflammatory and primary- as well as secondary genotoxic and mutagenic responses. It will be deciphered which aerosol components and properties lead to direct or inflammation-driven secondary mechanisms of genotoxicity before and after thermal removal of organics from the dust particles leading to a better understanding of the relative contribution of different components in the observed biological outcomes. The first call for students was handled during 2020. A Jordan biologist fulfilled the criteria and will likely join the team at JMSC. A next call round is planned for 2021.



Schweitzer, M. D. et al., (2018). Lung health in era of climate change and dust storms. Environ Res., 163, 36-42.

In DUST-STORM the impact of mineral desert dust on health is investigated.