Loading...
The Daily Dose Blog The Daily Dose Blog Home

Scientists find life high above Earth

Look, up in the sky! It's a bird, it's a plane, it's— a microorganism.

By Rich_Maloof Jan 30, 2013 5:33PM

High above Earth, there exists a living community. Trolling the middle and upper troposphere, a region four to six miles above our planet, scientists have discovered live microorganisms at an altitude not known to be especially conducive to survival — at least not without a space suit.

Photo: Bjorn Holland/Getty ImagesThe discovery is the first of its kind, and came as a shock to the microbiologists and environmental engineers who made it. Air samples taken on mountain-top expeditions had suggested before that bacteria and other microbes might be able to live at high altitude, but no one expected to find microscopic bugs in the troposphere, much less enduring there.

More from MSN Living: The truth behind Seen on TV products

It’s not quite clear yet whether the microorganisms routinely inhabit that lofty region of the atmosphere, living on carbon compounds, or if they rode there on the backs of major storms. The air samples in which they were found were collected miles above the Caribbean in 2010, not long after tropical hurricanes Earl and Karl. Hurricanes can aerosolize sea water; that is, gale-force winds whip up mist from the surface of the ocean, which is rich in microbial life, and send it sky high.

Scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, who made the discovery, had tagged along on NASA flights studying the hurricanes. A filter system on a DC-8 aircraft captured air samples that turned out to be crawling with fungal cells and, more prominently, bacteria, with over 60 percent of the collected microbes still alive. The microorganisms were studied using gene sequencing and polymerase chain reaction, methods more commonly applied to mapping human DNA and identifying diseases down here on terra firma.

More from MSN Living: Crazy dating trends we hope go away

Some 314 different families of bacteria were found in the samples, including (rather disturbingly) bacteria associated with human and animal feces. While these species and most others found have clearly traveled skyward from earth and sea, another 17 types turned up in every sample, leading researchers to hypothesize about the intriguing possibility of an ongoing ecosystem six miles high. Could bacteria be eating, growing, and multiplying high in the sky?

Bing: Amazing photos of space

Whatever their origin or lifecycle, the microbes are believed to be playing a role in weather systems. They are the right size and texture to cause the condensation of water vapor, suggesting they play a role in cloud formation and therefore in Earth’s weather.

The findings have been reported online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

More from Daily Dose:
Street scanner to detect concealed guns
Facebook can’t get you fired
5 promises Obama might still keep

Love content like this? Friend us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and find us on Pinterest.

Subscribe to the Daily Dose   

Photo: Bjorn Holland/Getty Images


0Comments

inspire: live a better life

  • Off-season vacation destinations

    The 10 best off-season vacation deals in the world

    Summer and winter tend to hog all the glory when it comes to travel high seasons. Sure, you want to soak up all the time at the beach you can during the summer, and you just want to escape the cold during the last months of the year.

  • Best places for fall foliage

    The 16 best places to see fall foliage

    Who just wants to stand around and watch the red and gold leaves slowly fall from their tree branches to the ground as we move from summer to fall? Instead, take in the changing seasons while you're on the move.

  • 30 things you learn in your 30s

    30 things that will (probably) happen in your 30s

    In September, I'll turn 38. I'm at the age now where, when people ask how old I am, it takes me a minute to remember. I don't know if that's because I've already been 37 different ages and it's hard to keep straight which one I am now, or if it's because I'm in denial, or if it's because I am going senile. Maybe a combination of all of the above. Regardless, my 30s have flown by and soon they will be but a memory. So, in an effort to preserve the memory I have left (or at least keep a record of it), and to celebrate what has been an amazing decade so far, here are 30 things that have happened to me in my 30s (and will probably happen to you too):

  • Great travel tech gadgets

    The 8 best travel tech accessories for every trip

    Traveling doesn't have to be stressful. And what you can fit in your carry-on can make all the difference (and not just a fresh pair of socks), especially when you get that low battery signal.

  • The Science

    5 surprising ways to live longer

    Volunteering (and these other rituals) might be just as good as exercise when it comes to extending your life.

  • Don’t hit snooze

    7 cures for a case of the Mondays

    Use these tricks to set a better tone for the rest of the week.

  • King's Night: Amsterdam, Holland

    The 10 wildest celebrations in the world

    Whether it involves a food fight, mermaids or a torch-lit procession, people the world over know how to have a good time. Here are some of the biggest, boldest, booziest celebrations around, along with some tips to get the full experience.

  • green brain image (Courtesy of Newser)

    Scientists turn bad memories to happy ones

    Research could mean more effective treatment for human disorders.

  • Cultura\Getty Images(Cultura\Getty Images)

    4 reasons journaling is good for you

    An entry a day might keep the doctor away (or at least the shrink).

  • Getty Images(Getty Images)

    Appreciating the Small Things in Life

    One woman's shout-outs to daily moments of joy — and how to cultivate them.

  • Woman jogging (Photo: Huffington Post)
  • Getty Images // Magazine

    Little ways to feel healthier and happier

    Our best health and fitness tips including the one move that tones all, berry news, and more.

Loading...
about rich maloof
Loading...
buzzing now on msn living
Loading...
inspire videos
editor's picks
Loading...