Clouds Harbor Microbial Life
The storm clouds in Earth’s atmosphere are filled with microbial life, according to a new study.
The research, published today (Jan. 23) in the journal PLoS One, revealed that hailstones drawn from storm clouds harbor several species of bacteria that tend to reside on plants, as well as thousands of organic compounds normally found in soil. Some of the bacterial species can seed the tiny ice crystals that lead to rain, suggesting they play a role in causing rain.
“Those storm clouds are quite violent phenomena,” said study co-author Tina Santl Temkiv, an environmental chemist at Aarhus University in Denmark. “They are sucking huge amounts of air from under the clouds, and that’s how the bacteria probably got into the cloud.”
The researchers think the bacteria come from the air hovering just above Earth that gets swept into the storm clouds through updrafts. That would suggest the atmosphere is a thread that can connect distant ecosystems, and that certain bacteria may be better at colonizing faraway environments, Pierre Amato, a researcher at France’s Blaise Pascal University who was not involved in the study, wrote in an email.
“Clouds can be thought of as transient ecosystems selecting for certain [types of bacteria] that are better fitted than others, and that can thus quickly disperse over the globe,” Amato said. “Understanding how microbes disperse is relevant, of course, for epidemiology, and also for microbial ecology.”
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