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Biotech Earth Science

UV-Resistant Micro-Organisms Discovered In the Stratosphere 156

Posted by timothy
from the insight-from-above dept.
junglee_iitk writes "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. Adds an anonymous reader: "This paper in International Journal of Astrobiology [PDF] speculates how microorganisms reach the stratosphere."
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UV-Resistant Micro-Organisms Discovered In the Stratosphere

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  • by gx5000 (863863) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @09:02AM (#27223871)
    Interesting information to be sure...
    But how do these micro organisms interact with Human cells ?
    Can they survive down here ?
    Are the body snatchers on their way ??!!

    Surely, we should welcome our new microscopic overlords before they take
    over our minds and......**gurgle**
    • ...if a guy could get there by balloon? In other words, how tough could it be? Couldn't a guy with a lawn chair catch a disease?

      This is a serious question. I am an English major.

      • by hey! (33014) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @09:45AM (#27224325) Homepage Journal

        In physical space, not far. A mere 10km.

        In parameter space (e.g. factors needed to support life sustainably), pretty far. By comparison, the distinction between the stratosphere and the north pole as an ecological niche is considerably greater than that between the north pole and an equatorial rain forest. Keeping in mind that the distance from the equator and the pole is 10,000km, one might say for poetic purposes (you claim to be an English major after all) that the distance between the surface of the Earth and the stratosphere in their capacities to support life is, at a minimum, over at thousand times greater than their physical separation.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by MrKaos (858439)

          A mere 10km.

          Must of been really good weed to get them that high.

        • Didn't NASA discover UV resistant microbes on the sides of their spaceships? I wonder if those are these guys?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bgray54 (1207256)
        The stratosphere is about 8-15 km above sea level, depending on latitude. To put this in perspective, the top of Mt. Everest is two-ish km shy of the stratosphere.
    • by dotancohen (1015143) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @09:22AM (#27224095) Homepage

      Can they survive down here?

      Most extremophiles are so adapted to their environment that they can survive but have a hard time reproducing in more conventional environments.

      It is amazing how life is found almost everywhere we look for it. I bet with the right equipment something primitive might even be found in RIAA offices.

      • by causality (777677)

        It is amazing how life is found almost everywhere we look for it. I bet with the right equipment something primitive might even be found in RIAA offices.

        None of it will be intelligent life, but I suppose if you look hard enough you might find something. You'll have to ignore many automatons before you have any chance at a search for anything truly living, however.

      • by robinsonne (952701) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @10:17AM (#27224759)
        I bet with the right equipment something primitive might even be found in RIAA offices.

        Here comes another "Are viruses alive or not" debate....
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by cpricejones (950353)
        In the RIAA offices? Everybody knows that bacteria thrive in feces.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by AliasMarlowe (1042386)

          In the RIAA offices? Everybody knows that bacteria thrive in feces.

          Coprophagous bacteria around the world are insulted and impugned by this implied association with the RIAA. Even the fecal matter is disgusted, you insensitive clod!

      • Re:They're coming ! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by vertinox (846076) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @11:50AM (#27226219)

        Most extremophiles are so adapted to their environment that they can survive but have a hard time reproducing in more conventional environments.

        I think people tend to think simple organism (like single cell bacteria) can evolve to grow into organisms that are immune to everything, but in reality they have limited DNA to work with until they evolve into a more complex organism which tend to not be able to adapt as easy.

        Case in point, bacteria that live in the gas vents in pitch black almost boiling temperatures will not live if you brought it the surface area where it is cooler and has more sunlight.

        If by the small chance you brought the bacteria to the surface waters (and by small, lets say 100 millions years using a sampling of more than trillions of trillions of bacteria) and found some that didn't die because of random mutations allowed them to live there, you still can't take that mutated bacteria and take it back to the bottom of the ocean and expect it to survive in such a location without going through the same process of 100 millions of years of evolution.

        Sure, a bacteria that doesn't die in UV can live fine up there, but can it live in an environment of different temperatures, chemical compositions, other bacteria, and almost of infinite things that might just make it die.

        And if by the off chance it does evolve to where it survives in our environment, who is to say that it won't loose its mutation of the UV resistance. There aren't any UV rays down here, and that is just wasted DNA and natural selection won't kill off any bacteria that mutated and lost its resistance so they'll continue to multiply.

        As an aside, this is one of the key reasons I argue that hand sanitizers don't actually make "super bugs". Your insides aren't made of soap and alcohol and you don't drink purell when you are sick. So if a bacteria got immune to a hand sanitizer, then it really doesn't make a difference if it is inside of you.

        What you should be concerned about is the over use of anti-biotics since that is what you take when you are already infected in which would be a common environment that doesn't have a major evolutionary hurdle to jump.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @09:27AM (#27224141)

      What the hell do they eat in the stratosphere? They must also be able to survive with very little water. Maybe they spend time in lower levels of the atmosphere.

      • They're likely photosynthetic, deriving energy from light the same way plants and many other bacteria do.
        • CO2!! (Score:3, Interesting)

          by j_w_d (114171)
          Photosynthesis relies on more than light to do the job. They would still require CO2, H2O, and various critical minerals and amino acids, not including all the raft of other things a biologist would list. So, the question, "what do they eat" is a really interesting one.

          You know, thinking about it, since photosynthesis relies on CO2 as a key component to synthesize carbohydrates, possibly they've found a counter for global warming! I'm sure none of the existing AGW climate models include a atmospheric,

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Tubal-Cain (1289912)
        They convert energy directly into matter. Didn't you read Andromeda Strain?
    • by ShadowBlasko (597519) <shadowblasko@nosPAM.gmail.com> on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @12:20PM (#27226769) Homepage

      Interesting information to be sure... But how do these micro organisms interact with Human cells ? Can they survive down here ? Are the body snatchers on their way ??!! Surely, we should welcome our new microscopic overlords before they take over our minds and......**gurgle**

      Have they made any cough or sneeze yet?

      You know, just to err on the side of caution, I better shut down my seaport. You can never be too sure.

      Sincerely,
      President Madagascar

  • Well... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Cornwallis (1188489) * on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @09:05AM (#27223895)
    they're found on earth now!
  • Aliens (Score:2, Funny)

    by ArcadiaAlex (1498971)

    Was Rimmer right after all?

    Lister: Your explanation for anything slightly peculiar is aliens, isn't it? You lose your keys, it's aliens. A picture falls off the wall, it's aliens. That time we used up a whole bog roll in a day, you thought that was aliens as well.
    Rimmer: Well we didn't use it all, Lister. Who did?
    Lister: Rimmer, ALIENS used our bog roll?
    Rimmer: Just cause they're aliens doesn't mean to say they don't have to visit the little boys' room. Only they probably do something weird and alien-esque,

    • Lister: Rimmer, ALIENS used our bog roll?

      So funny, i read that as "blog roll" - "ALIENS used our blog roll!" hehehehe - too much pop culture for me...

  • Swell... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @09:07AM (#27223913)

    So if they're resistant to UV, which can kill many nasty bugs that plague humanity, I wonder which of our other defenses (antibiotics, autoclaves, etc.) they can survive.

    • Re:Swell... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nyctopterus (717502) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @09:20AM (#27224053) Homepage
      They are less likely to be able to survive those things. Evolution is a set of trade-offs. Being resistant to UV light doesn't buy you heat resistance, or antibiotic resistance. Get good at something, get worse at something else. In fact, I would think that these bacteria are cryophiles and wouldn't grow at body temperature.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by tgd (2822)

        While you may be correct in this case, being good at one thing doesn't mean being bad at another... not having been exposed to something does.

        If a bacteria that is resistant to heat or antibiotics was in a high UV environment, there is nothing that requires, or even suggests, that it would lose its previous resistance as part of gaining a UV resistance. I'm not even sure where you'd get that idea?

        Now, its likely if this bacteria has evolved at that high altitude or came to be there through some sort of exog

        • Re:Swell... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by nyctopterus (717502) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @09:39AM (#27224283) Homepage

          If a bacteria that is resistant to heat or antibiotics was in a high UV environment, there is nothing that requires, or even suggests, that it would lose its previous resistance as part of gaining a UV resistance. I'm not even sure where you'd get that idea?

          I didn't get that idea. If course it's possible to be multi-resistant, but this has to come from not doing something else. The biochemical energy put into repairing DNA or heat-stable polymerases could have been put into reproduction, for example.

          The idea I am countering in this thread is the idea that this is some sort of super-bacteria that will devour us all. Finding something new thriving in an extreme environment is a lot less scary than finding something new thriving in a environment close to our own body conditions.

          • Re:Swell... (Score:4, Informative)

            by interkin3tic (1469267) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @12:02PM (#27226439)

            The biochemical energy put into repairing DNA or heat-stable polymerases could have been put into reproduction, for example.

            So they'll eat us at a slower rate than they would if they didn't have to have multiple resistance :-P

            Just kidding, sorta. As I understand it, those plasmids conferring multiple antibiotic resistance are pretty small compared to bacterial chromesomes, are replicated extremely efficiently, and don't really slow the bugs down to where that wouldn't be a problem. When I make ampycillin resistant E.Coli and grow them in amycillin , they don't seem to go much slower than nonresistant bugs on non-selective media. Granted, I'm not timing them or looking very closely, but I really can't tell a difference. And how much would the extra time for reproduction really help you if it's growing in you? Even if it doubles it's reproduction time, we're still talking a matter of minutes or hours, and it would still grow exponentially. It's still going to reproduce faster than any cancerous cells, right?

            It seems to me that the bigger hurdle for a pathogen is avoiding or defeating our immune systems, that seems like a much more complex challenge than being resistant to an antibiotic, and clearly there is no tradeoff there.

            UV resistance of course isn't much of an issue, as you typically wouldn't be using UV to treat a bacterial infection, but I don't think it's at all safe to assume that being resistant to one thing makes a bug safer in other ways.

            • by Rutulian (171771)

              When I make ampycillin resistant E.Coli and grow them in amycillin , they don't seem to go much slower than nonresistant bugs on non-selective media.

              Measure it. The transformed bacteria do grow slower under selective pressure, about 30% slower in my experience. Picking up desirable traits and getting rid of unnecessary genes quickly is precisely what the plasmid machinery is for. They don't have to insert antibiotic resistance into their chromosomes and maintain it forever if they can just produce beta-lactamase for a little while until the ampicillin is chewed up and then get rid of it. It's not good to carry around a lot of extra baggage in bacteria w

          • by TheLink (130905)
            Many people seem to think that grey goo nanobots will devour us all.

            But my reasoning is similar to yours.

            The grey goo is already out there and it's not devouring us all.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by mpe (36238)
          If a bacteria that is resistant to heat or antibiotics was in a high UV environment, there is nothing that requires, or even suggests, that it would lose its previous resistance as part of gaining a UV resistance. I'm not even sure where you'd get that idea?

          Without either heat or antibiotics being present a mutation which disables these does not negativly impact the survival odds of of the bacterium in question. Indeed if these are somehow metabolically "expensive" then getting rid of them is likely to be
      • Re:Swell... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @09:32AM (#27224205) Journal
        Your point is valid, in that these bugs are probably woefully unsuited to ordinary terrestrial life(even before they make it to our defenses, they'll have to deal with competition from organisms that have evolved to do things other than resist UV all the time).

        In some cases, though, resistances do come in packages; because the resistance is obtained by some underlying mechanism that has multiple uses. Things like DNA repair/redundancy mechanisms, or mechanisms for pumping undesirable compounds out of the cell, would qualify.

        Deinococcus radiodurans, for instance, has extraordinary resistance to ionizing radiation(as its name suggests); but it is hypothesized that that resistance is an incidental effect of the extreme resistance to dessication that the organism also possesses.
        • Yeah, I didn't mean to suggest that multi-resistance wasn't possible, or that resistance in on field couldn't be exapted.

          I was making the more general point that adaptation is about spending resources. Spend it on something like UV resistance, and you're not spending it on reproduction or resource acquisition.

    • So if they're resistant to UV, which can kill many nasty bugs that plague humanity, I wonder which of our other defenses (antibiotics, autoclaves, etc.) they can survive.

      Suppose those bugs are so foreign that they cannot infect us and pass through our bodies without reacting. Maybe those bugs are there in order to breed with other dangerous space bugs that _could_ infect us if they got here. Sort of like an anti-panspermia layer: Sorry boys, this rock's already taken.

    • resistance to uv light is expensive. meaning the cell has to expend all of this additional energy just surviving in high uv. remove the uv, and now uv resistance is a handicap. non-uv resistant bacteria can grow faster and reproduce faster because they aren't wasting their energy. uv resistance bacteria, on the surface of the earth, would simply be outcompeted at any food source, and die off

      we see that with antibiotic resistance too. currently farmers pump livestock with antibiotics (it makes for bigger chi

  • Obig... (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I, for one, welcome our new radiation resistant bacterial overlords!
  • Seriously .. resistancy to UV means they are tough buggers to kill? Clorox is not gonna phase these tiny invaders...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This is completely wrong. They're resistant to UV because the upper atmosphere is constantly bombarded by UV rays. Clorox and UV rays' methods of cell destruction are completely different. In fact, they are probably less resistant to bleach/antibiotics etc than bacteria down here because they've never been exposed to it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        So we should all arm ourselves with clorox water pistols?
      • Seriously .. resistancy to UV means they are tough buggers to kill? Clorox is not gonna phase these tiny invaders...

        This is completely wrong. They're resistant to UV because the upper atmosphere is constantly bombarded by UV rays. Clorox and UV rays' methods of cell destruction are completely different. In fact, they are probably less resistant to bleach/antibiotics etc than bacteria down here because they've never been exposed to it.

        Not necessarily. Clorox is a highly reactive oxidizer. Much like ozone. Which is produced by ultraviolet light, thus producting the ozone layer, which is in the stratosphere. Where the microorganisms under discussion are found.

        So if they live in the stratosphere, they're likely to be somewhat resistant to ozone as well, which means they'd likely be resistant to clorox.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nyctopterus (717502)
      No, that's not what it means. It means they are resistant to UV. They are probably relatively easy to kill, because they have evolved for such a specialised environment. I bet they don't grow at very well at room or body temperature for example.
    • by fiendo (217830)
      And how long before they can interbreed with the bacteria down here and pass on the UV resistance trait to some that currently plague us? This whole venture doesn't seem terriibly well thought out.
  • That's no atmosphere! That's a swarm of radiationresistent-bacteria reflecting radiation!
  • Atmosphere of Venus? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ihlosi (895663) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @09:14AM (#27223985)

    Who knows what we'll find in the upper atmosphere of Venus. Maybe we've been looking for life in the wrong places all alon.

    • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @09:42AM (#27224297)
      Not so long ago we had this theory announced that you would only find life on planets in a region between, in effect, too much solar radiation and so little that water only existed as ice, the idea being that this was a small zone and this made life more unlikely. But now there's evidence that there is long term liquid water under a frozen sea on Enceladus, far beyond that zone, and it looks like gravitational forcing may result in relatively high temperatures on many moons of the giant planets. (incidentally Carolyn Porco [edge.org] is now my favourite female scientist.) So in fact it is even possible that life may be most common on moons, because it looks like there are so many of them.

      Without any kind of background in the subject (disclaimer disclaimer) I've begun to wonder if the substrate for the emergence of life on Earth may have been carbon nanotubes or graphene on clays, with various oxidising agents as the energy source. This could apply also to remote moons.

      • 1. panspermia, which these uv bacteria represent, means where life started isn't the issue, nor is how life started the issue. that discovering, for example, life on mars simply is no big deal, because life is simply EVERYWHERE. and that, in certain conditions ideal for life, such as you identify, the concern is not so much how life can start independently, but the new conception is that these are simply places that tiny intergalactic travelers can settle down in, colonize, and then give rise to more comple

      • by pz (113803) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @12:19PM (#27226741) Journal

        incidentally Carolyn Porco [edge.org] is now my favourite female scientist

        A good link to provide for Dr. Porco is the imaging project she runs, CICLOPS http://ciclops.org/ [ciclops.org] , since it's a wonderful site and the project under her direction has produced some stunning photographs and fantastic discoveries.

        But, and I say this having spent some time with Dr. Porco, none of that has anything to do with her being female whatsoever. She is not a female scientist, she is a scientist full stop. And a damned good one at that.

        It's likely that her being female has affected her career path, but that is entirely independent of the quality of her work. So why continue to promulgate irrelevant aspects? Dr. Porco is Caucasian, why didn't you say that she's your favorite Caucasian female scientist? It's irrelevant. Dr. Porco is a scientist. And, if Dr. Porco happens to be your favorite scientist, I'd endorse that wholeheartedly, as she's one of my favorites as well.

    • The news is indeed very interesting.

      I might have been living under a rock, but I never thought that the possibility of bacteria living in the atmosphere far from the ground and from most of the organisms, was a real possibility. I did a quick search and I couldn't find how high we assume that the biosphere extends at the moment, but I suspect that these bacteria are living almost isolated up there. If that is true, it opens the possibility for life in the atmosphere of Venus, and in the atmosphere of the ga

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Ihlosi (895663)
        and in the atmosphere of the gas giants.

        *WE COME IN PEACE!*

        *shudder*

      • I might have been living under a rock, but I never thought that the possibility of bacteria living in the atmosphere far from the ground and from most of the organisms, was a real possibility. I did a quick search and I couldn't find how high we assume that the biosphere extends at the moment, but I suspect that these bacteria are living almost isolated up there. If that is true, it opens the possibility for life in the atmosphere of Venus, and in the atmosphere of the gas giants. Some people have suggested that the latter is possible....

        Also the former:
        Astrobiology: the Case for Venus [nasa.gov]

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mbone (558574)

      Both the Americas and the Soviets put a number of probes in or through the Venus atmosphere, including 2 French-Soviet balloons [harvard.edu].

      The Soviet Vega landers actually detected some interesting things in the upper atmosphere of Venus with a light backscatter experment [harvard.edu] :

      Lots of submicron particles between 60 and 30 km - roughly 10,000 per cubic cm [harvard.edu].

      In the "F zone" (~ 30 - 45 km) a possible detection of "extremely large" [harvard.edu] particles in the mm size range.

      It's not a current driver for space exploration, but based on this

  • by blind biker (1066130) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @09:16AM (#27224011) Journal

    I trust you all know about the TB bacteria, which in recent years has regained prominence, due mainly to the fact that (multi) resistive strains are being encountered in patients worldwide with ever increasing incidence. But, we also know that TB is not so easy to transmit and that it's killed very easily by the rays of the sun. It's susceptible to UV and this keeps a lid on TB epidemics.

    Now, imagine if somehow TB could be made UV resistant.

    Wet dreams of some mad dictator in his efforts to conquer the world? Or destroy humankind altogether? This could be it.

    • by khallow (566160)

      Now, imagine if somehow TB could be made UV resistant.

      We'd have to call it something new and ominous. Like anthrax.

    • by Talderas (1212466) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @10:17AM (#27224751)

      Personally, to destroy human kind I would first find some sort of virus that is produced in a plant in fertile Africa. Preferably this virus would grant superhuman strength and ability to a few, but would be highly toxic and deadly to most people. I would then create a giant pharmaceutical corporation to both research the virus, in small cells so no on knew too much, and fund the research of the virus. Any incidental profit is a plus.

      In order to test the virus I would have secret facilities around the US as well as facilities in Africa which are staff by poor Africans desperate for jobs. I would then have those facilities have a fake disaster which is actually a releasing of the virus to test it on the populace. After my secret American facility and the city which it lays underneath are destroyed by the US government in order to contain the infection, and my company eventually collapses. I would hire a striking attractive brunette to investigate a parasite that is capable of control humans. This parasite will conveniently pop up in Spain.

      I would then conduct research on the parasite, strengthening it, using a facility in Africa that is based over where the original virus came from. I would then blend the virus and parasite to create a super bio-weapon which either consumes the host or allows the host superhuman abilities. The whole plan hinges on the fact that I inject myself with a parasite that allows me to control all the other infected by the engineered parasite. With this, I unleash the bio weapon on earth, destroying most of humanity while leaving the rest of the infect in a state where I can control them.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by maxume (22995)

        The whole plan hinges on "my terribly naive view of biology".

      • Are you on the screen play team for the next Resident Evil direct to DVD movie?

      • The whole plan hinges on the fact that I inject myself with a parasite that allows me to control all the other infected by the engineered parasite. With this, I unleash the bio weapon on earth, destroying most of humanity while leaving the rest of the infect in a state where I can control them.

        This sounds so convoluted and stupid that it has to be the plot of a Japanese game. Does it involve giant german shepherds that shoot bees out of their mouths when they bark?

        • by Talderas (1212466)

          No, but it does involve bees that shoot german shepherds out of their mandibles when they buzz.

    • I trust you all know about the TB bacteria, which in recent years has regained prominence, due mainly to the fact that (multi) resistive strains are being encountered in patients worldwide with ever increasing incidence. It's susceptible to UV and this keeps a lid on TB epidemics.

      Now, imagine if somehow TB could be made UV resistant.

      Wet dreams of some mad dictator in his efforts to conquer the world? Or destroy humankind altogether? This could be it.

      TB was not exposed to modern drugs until humans started using them. That is it never had an evolutionary reason to work out a solution so it didn't waste the energy needed to do that. It is exposed to UV though. Even the low amount at sea level kills it. Odds are, if it could develop a resistance to UV it probably would have by now.

  • by bytesex (112972) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @09:18AM (#27224025) Homepage

    Of course I haven't RTFA and I certainly don't mind micro-organisms reaching the stratosphere. But how come they don't fall down - that's what I want to know !

  • by Hozza (1073224) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @09:19AM (#27224035)

    I checked the linked paper, from 2005, and while is presents some interesting arguments, it is not a thorough discussion of the subject.

    Too many possibilities of Earth origin are rejected with the phrase "it seems unlikely", and there's no mention of the most obvious method by which the micro-organisms get there: random motion (OK, particle velocities in the atmosphere will not be truly random, but you'd still expect a few outliers with very high velocities.)

    So, their conclusions may not necessarily be wrong, but they need to do a few more experiments before making a convincing argument that they're right.

    (P.S. yes I am a professional Astrophysicist)

    • by stiggle (649614) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @10:49AM (#27225183)

      Random motion might be a method if it wasn't for the tropopause - which they mention. What they do not mention is the other more likely cause - the amount of stuff humans throw up into the atmosphere, as all of their data comes from after the start of the Space Age.

      Space craft, supersonic aircraft and weather balloons all regularly go into the stratosphere and could carry particles. 10 years of bacterial evolution would be enough to develop some UV resistance (if we work from the bacteria being deposited there in the late 60's and then sampled in 1978).

    • by jc42 (318812)

      Too many possibilities of Earth origin are rejected with the phrase "it seems unlikely", and there's no mention of the most obvious method by which the micro-organisms get there: random motion (OK, particle velocities in the atmosphere will not be truly random, but you'd still expect a few outliers with very high velocities.)

      Also, the "output" of the Earth's atmosphere was measured back in the 1960s and 1970s (and perhaps earlier). I remember reading a couple of articles in the 70s about our planet's "come

  • This is interesting. but not wholly surprising. Bacteria exist in basically every part of the world, including areas even a "reasonable" person might find incredible. NASA clean rooms [scienceline.org] have turned up a lot of exotic, unique bacteria which defy common sense (like bacteria who live solely on aluminum IIRC). So, UV resistant bacteria in the stratosphere is nifty in that they confirmed it exists, but isn't revolutionary.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @09:21AM (#27224073)
    Mechanisms for resistance radiation damage are extremely old in life. Half of Earth's history there was insufficient free oxygen to produce the productive ozone layer. Yet bacteria evolved mechanisms to colonize the energy rich top inches of the ocean surface and resist UV damage.

    Many of these same chemical pathways were co-opted in aerobic cells. Free oxygen is toxic to many cells and parts of cells. Yet they figured out how to incorporate the toxic mitochondria energy engines. Mitochondria help cells generate an order of magnitude more energy than aerobic cells, setting the stage for later mobile animal life which requires lots of energy.
  • by mongoose(!no) (719125) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @09:23AM (#27224105)
    ...from the results of the Scoop mission [wikipedia.org]. Trying to collect bacteria from outer space and the upper atmosphere is a terrible idea.
  • Red Rain of Kerala (Score:2, Interesting)

    by djtachyon (975314)
    I always find it interesting how local events, lore, and legends end up affecting future thoughts and research. I have no doubt that events like the Red Rain in Kerala [wikipedia.org] lead researchers to come up with these ideas and projects.

    I'm sure if I had more coffee this morning, I would list a few other examples I have come across in the past.
  • What A Cool Idea! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BigBlueOx (1201587)

    Ok, so here's my plot: They, like, scoop immortal UV resistant clone bacteria from the upper reaches of the atmosphere and, get this, it EATS radiation and so if you ...

    It has?? When?? Oh.

    Ok, so how bout this: So, like, this plane crashes on an island and the survivors run into a giant killer mutant iguana from the Badassic era but Ron Perlman shows up with this HUGE rail gun ...

  • by mbone (558574) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @09:59AM (#27224493)

    These bacteria were retrieved at "different heights ranging from 20 km to 41 k".

    These altitudes bracket the surface pressures on Mars, and the conditions at 41 km are quite comparable to those
    on the Martian surface (full UV flux, lower atmospheric pressure).

    Given that material is exchanged between the Earth and Mars, I have to wonder if these might not be Martian bacteria.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Samschnooks (1415697)

      Given that material is exchanged between the Earth and Mars, I have to wonder if these might not be Martian bacteria.

      Great! That's all we need in these tough economic times: more illegal aliens!

    • anything living at that atmosphere level, or on mars, has been living there perhaps for a very long time. for such a long time, you couldn't say whether it was native to mars, or native to the upper atmosphere of earth

      for such a long time in fact, that these bacteria might not even be native to this solar system, or even this part of the galaxy

      for such a long time in fact, you could even speculate that the initial identification of these critters as being some exotic mutation of life on earth, is in actuali

    • and... if it takes one to know one, then...
      WE ARE THE MARTIANS

    • "...and the conditions at 41 km are quite comparable to those on the Martian surface (full UV flux, lower atmospheric pressure)."

      Conditions at 41km are more like open space than the surface of any planet.

  • Panspermia (Score:4, Interesting)

    by smoker2 (750216) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @10:06AM (#27224603) Homepage Journal
    There is another article [nrc-cnrc.gc.ca] from last year regarding the meteorites found in Antarctica, which were found to be loaded with amino acids. I also remember reading something about actual microbes/bacteria that were found to have entered the atmosphere from space quite recently, but I can't remember the link. It could have been this current story, considering the paper dates from 4 years ago.

    I see no reason that this could not be valid. Comets and asteroids have near misses with planets quite regularly and the occasional glancing blow will surely take some of whatever is on the planet out into space. As the paper states, these micro-organisms are viable but don't respond to culturing. Which could mean they were alive but are dormant and don't respond to conditions here on earth.

    Being previously undiscovered doesn't really prove anything as the Amazon is full of insects and other life that have yet to be "discovered" by man, but this is not definitively disproving panspermia. IMHO, this is one of the prime reasons for humans to visit Mars, as it is very difficult to get a robot to be able to spot these kinds of organisms, especially if they are not currently alive. The conditions on Mars are not favourable for large organisms, but if there is water ice, then you have the capability of getting H2 and O2 at the least. And as Mars has no magnetic field (to speak of), there would be large amounts of mutating cosmic rays hitting the surface continually for billions of years. It would be odd if nothing came of it.

    I've been reading some of Asimovs later scientific essays, and he describes how you can predict with some certainty which planets are likely to have a magnetosphere. Basically, you need a reasonably rapid rotation, and a molten or high temperature metallic core which "sloshes" about as the planet spins. This core acting against the outer layers of the planet causes the magnetic field. The only real reason our planet is special, regarding life, is that we have an exceptionally large moon, too large in fact as conventional wisdom goes, to have been formed by capturing passing debris. We are almost a binary planet system, and that is pretty rare. So the possibility of life forming actually in space (rather than on another planetary body) has to be considered.

    If we send men to Mars and they find similar micro-organisms there, then it is possible they came from space rather than evolved natively. Especially if there are no other traces of activity that can be construed as being the result of living organisms.

    Interesting stuff, which can never be verified while we sit here exploring from a distance.
    • by conureman (748753)

      The first thing that I thought when I RTFA was that these rascals were probably common, throughout our region of the galaxy, at least. Any testing of my hypothesis awaits funding. Does it threaten the children?

    • Re:Panspermia (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Entropy2016 (751922) <entropy2016@yahoo . c om> on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @10:36AM (#27225023)

      As the paper states, these micro-organisms are viable but don't respond to culturing. Which could mean they were alive but are dormant and don't respond to conditions here on earth.

      Whoa, woah there buddy. Did you consider the possibility that maybe they "don't respond to culturing" because bacteria that exclusively exist in an upper atmosphere don't like being stuck to a semi-wet petri dish at 1 atmosphere of pressure? They're totally different environments. Granted, I doubt their culturing technique was honestly as crude as conventional petri dish work, but I was making a general point about it being likely a limitation of "how" they tried to culture it.

      When you make the agar or whatever medium you plan to use to cultivate any microscopic critter en masse, you're inevitably going to create a selection pressure (sometimes on purpose, sometimes it's a side effect), depending on what nutrients it supplies. I've glanced at a lengthy catalogue of agars I once saw in a microbiology lab. There's a lot of types, but they need them all for different situations. Again, I have no clue how they tried to culture them, but I'm guessing stratospheric microbiology is a relatively new thing, so I wouldn't expect the culturing techniques to be as good they should be for this purpose.

      On top of that, from what I understood, we can only culture a surprisingly small fraction of microorganisms anyway. Also, culturing extremophiles has always been very hard. And I'm pretty sure this one counts as an extremophile.

      There are going to be plenty of terrestrial explanations for them being uncultivable which do not lend any support to them having a population outside of Earth's biosphere.

      • by smoker2 (750216)

        There are going to be plenty of terrestrial explanations for them being uncultivable which do not lend any support to them having a population outside of Earth's biosphere.

        This is true, I don't believe I said they DID come from space, but the fact remains they are until now, unculturable. And "here on earth" refers just as well to here on the ground as it does to here on the planet Earth.

        I'm only going off the pdf which was pretty light on details. Whatever the origin of these organisms, it will be hard t

      • ...we can only culture a surprisingly small fraction of microorganisms anyway.

        You've not looked in my fridge lately, have you! :-)

        All joking aside, you do have a valid point.

    • We are almost a binary planet system, and that is pretty rare.

      Back when Pluto was a planet, 2 out of 9 planets were "binary". Is that "pretty rare" that's a judgement call.

      Now that Pluto is no longer a planet 1 in 8 plants is a binary. Is that "pretty rare"?

      But if we only consider rocky planets then one in 4 is "binary". That's 25%. Hardy rare.

      We will have to wait many years untill you can see many rocky exo-planets before we can have a statistically significant number of them toknow if Earth is rare o

      • by smoker2 (750216)
        If I had a link to the Asimov essay where he explained how his math works predicting moons for particular planets, you would see what I meant. We shouldn't have a moon that big, this close to the sun. Venus and Mercury have no moons, and Mars has at least 2, but they are tiny in relation to their parent body. All the others have multiple moons, but again are tiny in comparison with the parent bodies. We have a relatively massive moon, within the orbital band where the theory says there should only be small
  • by BorgCopyeditor (590345) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @10:07AM (#27224619)

    ...I can't help thinking of the headline like this: "Creatures that Can Breathe Underwater Discovered Underwater."

  • The new dempgraphic [slashdot.org] will eat this up! Just think of it... we can tie in balloons, fashionable climate change zealotry, a discussion about sun screen... and because it was Indian scientists, they can really stretch the pop-culture connections, and have a sort of Slum Dog Xenobiologist thing where the scrappy kid from the wrong part of town discovers that we can stop the bacteria from creating dancing Bollywood zombies by sprinkling them with Splenda. I'm calling my agent - the screenplay just writes itself
    • Here's the opening sequence....

      Indus River: Funeral Party is sending a loved one down the river amongst all the other lost loved ones on floating funeral barges, dressed in their finest apparel... suddenly they all stand up on their barges and begin dancing to a groovy pop song with Indian guitar twangs... ;-p

      Pan Out to see everyone elated and cheerful to have their loved ones back, until all the zombies begin complaining about how they were not dressed well enough and that they are sure to come back as dun

  • I, for one, welcome our New Mutant Extraterrestrial Bacterial Overlords.

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