I have no idea what if anything this might mean, but it would be interesting to find out what these bacteria consume and respire. It just goes to show you that we don’t yet know everything about the atmosphere. – Anthony
From Slashdot h/t to James Stein
Three new species of bacteria, which are not found on earth and highly resistant to ultraviolet radiation, have been discovered in the upper stratosphere by some Indian scientists.
These bacteria, which do not match any species on earth, were found in samples collected through a balloon sent up to the stratosphere in April 2005. The payload consisted of a cryosampler containing 16 evacuated and sterilised stainless steel probes. Throughout the flight, the probes remained immersed in the liquid neon to create a ‘cryopump effect.’ These cylinders after collecting air samples from different heights ranging from 20 to 41 km were parachuted down and safely retrieved, it said.”
Here’s the Indian Space Research Organisation’s press release on the discovery.
In all, 12 bacterial and six fungal colonies were detected, nine of which, based on 16S RNA gene sequence, showed greater than 98% similarity with reported known species on earth. Three bacterial colonies, namely, PVAS-1, B3 W22 and B8 W22 were, however, totally new species. All the three newly identified species had significantly higher UV resistance compared to their nearest phylogenetic neighbours. Of the above, PVAS-1, identified as a member of the genus Janibacter, has been named Janibacter hoylei. sp. nov. The second new species B3 W22 was named as Bacillus isronensis sp.nov. and the third new species B8 W22 as Bacillus aryabhata.
The precautionary measures and controls operating in this experiment inspire confidence that these species were picked up in the stratosphere. While the present study does not conclusively establish the extra-terrestrial origin of microorganisms, it does provide positive encouragement to continue the work in our quest to explore the origin of life.
From WIRED Science:
One species was dubbed Janibacter hoylei, a reference to astronomer Fred Hoyle, who believed that Earth’s first life came from space. In a press release, the agency noted that the bugs “are not found on Earth” and that “the present study does not conclusively establish the extra-terrestrial origin of the microorganisms” — implying, of course, that they might be alien in origin.
Not so fast, said University of Washington astrobiologist John Baross.
“It is extremely unlikely that these organisms are extraterrestrial,” wrote Baross in an email, “and they are likely to originate from soil on Earth.”
Adds an anonymous Slashdot reader: “This paper in International Journal of Astrobiology [PDF] speculates how microorganisms reach the stratosphere.