UV-Resistant Bacteria Discovered In the Stratosphere

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

Bacteria - not the ones in the deep blue skies

Bacteria - not the ones in the deep blue skies

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.

From it:

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.

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50 thoughts on “UV-Resistant Bacteria Discovered In the Stratosphere

  1. “Even though the first experiment had yielded positive results, it was decided to repeat the experiment by exercising extra care to ensure that it was totally free from any terrestrial contamination. ”
    Please also use reverse care and keep terra firma free from non-terrestrial contamination. We don’t know how these react to humans. Thanks!

  2. Yikes Alien Bacteria from the Planet Xlylonian in a attempt to engineer our planet’s atmosphere into one like theirs so they can invade!
    What?
    It is as likely that CO2 will cause runaway global warming will create a hothouse earth where humans cannot survive.
    Hmm atmospheric bacteria or methane ice worms, which is the most interesting discovery?

  3. From a 2002 paper “Microorganisms cultured from stratospheric air samples obtained at 41 km”
    http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.5.1319&rep=rep1&type=pdf
    “It is generally accepted that few particles of Earth origin
    can cross the tropopause, a natural barrier occurring at
    around 17 km above the Earth’s surface. While convection
    currents mix ground level particulates in the air and readily
    carry them into the troposphere, temperature inversions
    beyond 15 km lead to barriers through which very
    few aerosols can penetrate. Whenever rare events such as
    volcanic eruptions loft particles above 30 km, particles
    larger than a few microns fall back quickly to the ground
    under gravity.”
    “Assuming our collections on
    20 January 2001 gave us representative stratospheric samples
    at 41 km no process that is purely terrestrial can
    sustain the high densities of bacterial clusters as are implied,
    such densities would require an in-fall, or fall-back
    rate of a factor of 1 t year**-1 over the entire planet.”
    I’ll let you read “3.3. Discussion of a space origin for the isolates”.
    –Mike

  4. Is there any place on Earth that doesn’t have bacteria, if the stratosphere has them then……..
    Maybe they’ll unravel their DNA and bring us the secret to the holy grail of sunscreens, or a genetic altering pill that makes people resistant to UV damage.

  5. Very interesting….. Me? I would have thought that the stratosphere was pretty much sterile.
    To be honest I have never thought about bacteria or fungus drifting around at that height…… But once you think about it… If dust can stay up there and get up there….. Then so can biologicals.
    Good on India. At least their scientists still have enquiring minds.

  6. It is one thing to have a UV resistant bacteria, but are they METH resistant ???
    And here is another nightmare theme-are we really lucky that the sun is in hibernation ???
    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601109&sid=amgdIAKSztHU&refer=home
    “IT IS midnight on 22 September 2012 and the skies above Manhattan are filled with a flickering curtain of colourful light. Few New Yorkers have seen the aurora this far south but their fascination is short-lived. Within a few seconds, electric bulbs dim and flicker, then become unusually bright for a fleeting moment. Then all the lights in the state go out. Within 90 seconds, the entire eastern half of the US is without power…….
    Space storm alert: 90 seconds from catastrophe
    Even Drudge is carrying this item….now if we can just get him to carry some of anti AGW items we might get somewhere !!!!!

  7. Adam from Kansas (18:20:40) :
    Maybe they’ll unravel their DNA and bring us the secret to the holy grail of sunscreens, or a genetic altering pill that makes people resistant to UV damage.

    And no doubt tolerance of very low pressure. 🙂
    –Mike

  8. Deinococcus radiourans is resistant to radiation. Are these bacterial actually growing up there, or just in a statis or possibilly only spores (Many species of Bacillus are sporeformers which can be resistant to many different types of conditions)?

  9. In 1991, as Apollo 12 Commander Pete Conrad reviewed the transcripts of his conversations relayed from the moon back to Earth, the significance of the only known microbial survivor of harsh interplanetary travel struck him as profound:
    “I always thought the most significant thing that we ever found on the whole…Moon was that little bacteria who came back and lived and nobody ever said [anything] about it.”
    Microbes one of the simplest organisms in the biosphere. Having evolved over billions of years they retained the mechanisms to retain life in the harshest environments ,and to “resurrect” when environmental conditions and adequate nutrients become available.
    The Surveyor probes were the first U.S. spacecraft to land safely on the Moon. In November, 1969, the Surveyor 3 spacecraft’s microorganisms were recovered from inside its camera that was brought back to Earth under sterile conditions by the Apollo 12 crew.
    The 50-100 organisms survived launch, space vacuum, 3 years of radiation exposure, deep-freeze at an average temperature of only 20 degrees above absolute zero, and no nutrient, water or energy source. (The United States landed 5 Surveyors on the Moon; Surveyor 3 was the only one of the Surveyors visited by any of the six Apollo landings. No other life forms were found in soil samples retrieved by the Apollo missions or by two Soviet unmanned sampling missions, although amino acids – not necessarily of biological origin – were found in soil retrieved by the Apollo astronauts.) /
    http://science.nasa.gov/newhome/headlines/ast01sep98_1.htm

  10. jim papsdorf (18:25:49) wrote: “Even Drudge is carrying this item….now if we can just get him to carry some of anti AGW items we might get somewhere !!!!!”
    If you go here, Jim: And why the sea is boiling hot you will get a link to a Drudge story such as you desire. Picked it up a couple days ago and do not think it is a first for Drudge.

  11. I was just watching a TV show today which claimed that living organisms could not have lived on the surface of the earth 2 billion years ago because there was no ozone layer so the radiation would have killed everything. I guess that theory is now shot to pieces. Beyond that, I think this further demonstrates that we humans don’t know nearly as much as we think we do.

  12. Soon to come:
    Photos of stratospheric bacteria stranded on particles of dust because of global warming, then they are declared an endangered species. CO2 reductions will be required to make sure the precious bacteria can continue to exist. Hockey stick-type graphs will be produced to show the relationship between CO2 and the decline of the bacterial population. Billions of dollars will be spent to save the precious little buggers. GAG.

  13. This is incredibly interesting. There are so many possibilities for answers. What if these stratospheric bugs evolved in isolation from early times. What about the mitochondrial DNA. I wish there was more info…. great stuff.

  14. I have two words to say on this issue:
    It’s plausible for some species of bacteria and fungus, and perhaps species from other domains, to tolerate conditions of high UV radiation and extreme low pressure. In my theory on the origin of life, protobionts (those primitive aggregates of organic microspheres) were synthesized in the primitive Earth’s atmosphere (instead of on wet-floor, ponds, or oceans) inside dust granules which are known as agglomerative substrates. Agglomerative substrates are substructures that make possible the accumulation of substances and the subsequent chemical interaction; for example, grains of Calcium Phosphate, Calcium Carbonate, Silicon Carbide, Graphite, Fullerenes (allotropic form of Carbon) and Iron Sulfur, which can contain icy water into their fissures and holes. Agglomerative substrates acted as shells which protected the primitive cells from intense harmful solar radiation. However, for the aggregation of substances and chemical interactions occurred, substances which promote the abiotic synthesis of biomolecules, from simple to complex biomolecules, were essential. We have found those substances in the interplanetary medium. We have identified those substances like condenser promoters.
    Nevertheless, none of the species found in the stratosphere’s medium were photoautotrophic, so it is questionable that they could subsist over there for ages, which favors the hypothesis that they were dragged up from soil by some mechanism which we still don’t understand.
    From this to an extraterrestrial origin there is a long, long, fantastic road. This seems to me like another attempt for obtaining funds for future space missions. It is not the first time they go into this class of subterfuges to obtain funds. Just remember MIL-03346 and ALH-0804001.

  15. Dan Evans (19:53:12) :
    The Russians say a mosquito survived for over a year in space outside of the ISS.
    From the original article on http://en.rian.ru/analysis/20090218/120203420.html:
    Dr. Sychev also discussed various findings of the Biorisk project. First, it appears that panspermia, the hypothesis that “seeds” of life already exist all over the Universe, that life on Earth may have originated through these “seeds,” and that they may deliver or have delivered life to other habitable bodies, is quite plausible.
    Panspermists conceived the idea and now they’re looking for evidence. Heh! 😉

  16. “The planet is running a feaver”… because it is infected by bacteria and here is the proof!!!

  17. Extreemely interesting.
    This greatly supports the idea that life can travel through universe. From planet collisions, meteor impacts etc in ancient times, billion of years before the solar system, seeds of life may have been practically everywhere.
    When these organisms can exist in upper stratosphere, many more places in the solar system might hold life.
    Thanks, K.R. Frank

  18. 1. The fact that UV-resistant bacteria exist doesn’t surprise me.
    2. Perhaps the fact that they are ‘flying’ in the stratosphere should. It’s not something I ever thought about before – bugs in the stratosphere!
    3. What’s the temperature up there? For cellular life to survive, even with ‘anti-freeze’ proteins in abundance, it probably mustn’t be too cold!
    4. What do they eat up there? I guess they must just convert gas into organic materials – carbon dioxide? Methane?
    Does suggest a madcap scheme of firing a load of these bacteria into the stratosphere to absorb sunlight and hence mitigate ‘global warming’ doesn’t it?
    Whether it would work is quite another matter……..

  19. Could it be that jet-planes carried them there?
    I often wonder where the stuff goes after I flush the toilet.

  20. “David S (19:14:02) :
    I was just watching a TV show today which claimed that living organisms could not have lived on the surface of the earth 2 billion years ago because there was no ozone layer so the radiation would have killed everything. I guess that theory is now shot to pieces. Beyond that, I think this further demonstrates that we humans don’t know nearly as much as we think we do.”
    The amazing thing is not that some of us think we know more than we do…it’s that it’s been proven to be true time and time again, yet some still fall prey to it.
    Pure arrogance methinks.
    JimB

  21. Adds an anonymous Slashdot reader: “This paper in International Journal of Astrobiology [PDF] speculates how microorganisms reach the stratosphere.” It is really no surprise. Before 1965 I knew empirically that amoebas and paramecium fell in rainwater. It wasn’t a new observation. Give a kid a microscope and there is nothing that goes unexamined.

  22. Did anybody else think of The Andromeda Strain when they saw this? I’d never heard of stratospheric life before now, but it’d been in the back of my mind since reading the novel and its Project Scoop.

  23. Tim Hamilton (06:41:54) :
    Did anybody else think of The Andromeda Strain when they saw this?
    I sure did! I hope they are keeping these things bottled up tight.

  24. Tom in South Jersey (18:45:58) :

    Maybe they are feasting on CFCs.

    Stratospheric microbes feeding on Crispy Fried Chicken? Is there no end to the detrimental effects of unhealthy food?

  25. There are many of species of Arthropods in the soil that make these bacteria look like wilting violets. These arthropods can withstand 10,000 atmospheres and the hard radiation of space.
    They are found everywhere on Earth – even on ice.

  26. David S (19:14:02) :
    I was just watching a TV show today which claimed that living organisms could not have lived on the surface of the earth 2 billion years ago because there was no ozone layer so the radiation would have killed everything.

    If there is oxygen or water vapor in the air, an ozone layer can be expected. And the lack of an ozone layer wouldn’t matter to stuff living [some unknown distance] under water.
    * “Deep sea rocks point to early oxygen on earth”
    * There are indications of a cool early earth with at least one ocean shortly after formation of the planet.

  27. AnonyMoose (09:03:42) :
    David S (19:14:02) :
    I was just watching a TV show today which claimed that living organisms could not have lived on the surface of the earth 2 billion years ago because there was no ozone layer so the radiation would have killed everything.
    If there is oxygen or water vapor in the air, an ozone layer can be expected. And the lack of an ozone layer wouldn’t matter to stuff living [some unknown distance] under water.

    From my post above:
    Agglomerative substrates are substructures that make possible the accumulation of substances and the subsequent chemical interaction; for example, grains of Calcium Phosphate, Calcium Carbonate, Silicon Carbide, Graphite, Fullerenes (allotropic form of Carbon) and Iron Sulfur, which can contain icy water into their fissures and holes.”

  28. The problem with the primordial soup is that UV, cosmic rays, x-rays, etc would prevent the formation of aminoacids, proteins, etc by breaking first all double ligants. The environment must have been pretty harsh for the formation of simple molecules. So maybe they formed under ground then…

  29. Those bateria must reproduce by binary fission or budding. But it is still strange how something so heavy can stay airborn for so long. Another interesting question is, do they get fried when we have those sudden atmospheric warming every now and then?
    In any case, you can bet they will use this as another reason to “control” the climate… those organisms must be saved. After the super-bugs, we now have the Unduly-bugs.
    I think the decontamination business will boom. Think about every plane, rocket, satellites, etc that must be decontaminated. Maybe those were just ordinary bugs that we put up in space. They modified and upon reentry, they are now up there. Hmmm, planet of the apes anyone?

  30. Ray (10:00:13):
    The environment must have been pretty harsh for the formation of simple molecules. So maybe they formed under ground then…
    Or inside agglomerative substrates, which would protect biomolecules from intense radiation even in the atmosphere.

  31. No need for decontamination. Surface life gets exposed to those critters on the ubiquitous meteor dust. And that exposure has been going on for millions or billions of years, whether they’re cosmic, Martian, or survivors of sprite acceleration or asteroid impacts.

  32. Perhaps they’ve been eating ozone to gain UV resistance. Could explain the ozone hole. Or maybe eating CO2, or expelling CO2, thus causing the CO2 increase.
    I’d guess they’re actually like bacteria near deep sea vents, living on sulfur aerosols released by volcanoes.

  33. Nasif Nahle (10:59:36) :
    The problem of oxydation remains also a problem for early molecular buildup. It’s not because there was no photosynthesis that there were not any oxidants in the atmosphere.

  34. Hey we need all of those little cylindrical buggers that we can muster. Think of all the lovely rain tht forms on their nice cyclindrical skins.
    Anything that can form clouds is ok in my book; and it is for sure that we will get those critters on earth if any water vapor makes it up to their place.
    George

  35. Ray (14:43:09) :
    The problem of oxydation remains also a problem for early molecular buildup. It’s not because there was no photosynthesis that there were not any oxidants in the atmosphere.
    Yes, if we think that living beings were synthesized in ponds, wet soils and oceans. Nevertheless, the unique reducing environment was the primitive atmosphere, which was loaded with dust and grains like agglomerative substrates. The reducing microenvironment of modern agglomerative substrates found in interplanetary dust is made of substances trapped inside those granules. We deduce from experimentation with microspheres that protobionts probably were able to maintain reducing inner compartments through the storing of energy. Protobionts didn’t need of nucleic acids, but only of self replicating proteins. Some theoreticians, I among them, think that the modern prions are reminiscences of those self-replicating proteins.

  36. I was just thinking about this some more, since there is no homework to do right now, and wondered to myself, “Self, I wonder if we float through bacteria clouds as we go through space.” Is there a satellite that monitors for life?

  37. Nothing New Under the Sun!
    Congratulations to these Indian scientists for repeating earlier studies by UK and Indian scientists showing that microbes are in the stratosphere. Anyone who is intertested can search Google for “wainwright stratosphere” for more details.
    Best Wishes, Professor Milton Wainwright,Dept. Molecular Biology and Biotechnology,University of Sheffield,UK

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