Atmospheric aerosol particles of biological origin are a very diverse group of biological materials and structures, including microorganisms, dispersal units, fragments and excretions of biological organisms. In recent years, the impact of biological aerosol particles on atmospheric processes has been studied with increasing intensity, and a wealth of new information and insights has been gained. This review outlines the current knowledge on major categories of primary biological aerosol particles (PBAP): bacteria and archaea, fungal spores and fragments, pollen, viruses, algae and cyanobacteria, biological crusts and lichens and others like plant or animal fragments and detritus. We give an overview of sampling methods and physical, chemical and biological techniques for PBAP analysis (cultivation, microscopy, DNA/RNA analysis, chemical tracers, optical and mass spectrometry, etc.). Moreover, we address and summarise the current understanding and open questions concerning the influence of PBAP on the atmosphere and climate, i.e. their optical properties and their ability to act as ice nuclei (IN) or cloud condensation nuclei (CCN). We suggest that the following research activities should be pursued in future studies of atmospheric biological aerosol particles: (1) develop efficient and reliable analytical techniques for the identification and quantification of PBAP; (2) apply advanced and standardised techniques to determine the abundance and diversity of PBAP and their seasonal variation at regional and global scales (atmospheric biogeography); (3) determine the emission rates, optical properties, IN and CCN activity of PBAP in field measurements and laboratory experiments; (4) use field and laboratory data to constrain numerical models of atmospheric transport, transformation and climate effects of PBAP.