A cohort study of cucumber greenhouse workers’ exposure to microorganisms as measured using NGS and MALDI-TOF MS and biomarkers of systemic inflammation

Anne Mette Madsen*, John Kerr White, Amal Markouch, Sarah Kadhim, Nadieh de Jonge, Trine Thilsing, Vinni M. Hansen, Jesper Bælum, Jeppe Lund Nielsen, Ulla Vogel, Kira Tendal

*Corresponding author for this work

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Work in greenhouses entails exposure to airborne fungi and bacteria. The aims of this study are to obtain knowledge about whether exposure to fungal and bacterial genera and species during work in a cucumber greenhouse is affected by work tasks, and whether a cohort of greenhouse workers' serum levels of serum amyloid A (SAA) and C-reactive protein (CRP), biomarkers of systemic inflammation, are associated with this. Data on personal exposure to airborne fungal and bacterial species measured over 4 years as well as serum levels of SAA and CRP sampled over two years were analyzed. For data analysis, the main work tasks were grouped into three different groups, called ‘grouped work task’. Microorganisms were identified using matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight (MALDI-TOF MS) and next-generation sequencing (NGS). The ‘daily exposure’ of greenhouse workers' were as follows: 4.8 × 10 4 CFU bacteria/m 3, 1.4 × 10 6 CFU fungi/m 3, and 392 EU/m 3 of endotoxin. Workers were exposed to many different microbial species including several species within the genera Acinetobacter, Bacillus, Microbacterium, Pseudomonas, Staphylococcus, and Streptomyces. The genera Ralstonia and Cladosporium were found in most samples. The exposure levels as well as the microbial composition were associated significantly with grouped work task and season with high exposures during tasks in close contact with mature and old plants and in the autumn. CRP and SAA levels were also associated with exposure level and grouped work tasks. The Shannon-Wiener indices were not different in the 3 ‘grouped work tasks’. Several specific species including e.g. Halomonas elongata, Stenotrophomonas maltophilia, Podosphaera fusca, and Wallemia spp. were found frequently or in high concentrations in the exposures associated with the highest levels of CRP and SAA. The microorganisms S. maltophilia, P. fusca, and Wallemia spp. were also found on the cucumber plant leaves. In conclusion, both exposure level and the species composition seem to have an effect on the serum levels of CRP and SAA of exposed workers. The greenhouse workers were exposed to only a few species characterized as human pathogens.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110325
JournalEnvironmental Research
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


  • Acute-phase response
  • Biodiversity
  • Fungal exposure
  • Occupational exposure
  • Serum amyloid A


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