Scientists find life high above Earth
Look, up in the sky! It's a bird, it's a plane, it's— a microorganism.
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.
The 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.
Photo: Bjorn Holland/Getty Images
inspire: live a better life
Our best health and fitness tips including the one move that tones all, berry news, and more.
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.
Here's some tips to get to happiness going forward in your life.
People 60 to 82 did best on cognitive tasks before 10:30am.
Lucille Ball was born in 1911, and though we lost her long ago, her legacy as America's favorite redhead lives on through the timeless classic, "I Love Lucy." People of all generations still enjoy Lucy's antics as much as they did over 60 years ago when the show first premiered.
Summer is coming to an end, and in a few weeks, kids will be forced to trade in their beach bags for backpacks. But just because the season is fading away doesn't mean the memories from the past few months have to disappear with it.
Confidence and perceived competence are key, study finds.
Features lead to assumptions about character, study says.
Great gear for an afternoon spent shoreside.
Use these bucket-list ideas to enjoy the little time you have left.
Study points to benefits of improved living conditions.