March 17, 2009

New bacteria discovered in stratosphere

Scientists in India say they've found three species of bacteria in the stratosphere, all of which are alien to Earth and resistant to ultraviolet radiation.

One of the species has been named Janibacter hoylei, after the late astrophysicist Fred Hoyle. The others are named Bacillus isronensis, recognizing the contribution of the Indian Space Research Organization in the balloon experiments that led to its discovery, and Bacillus aryabhata after India's ancient astronomer Aryabhata and also the first ISRO satellite.

The experiment was conducted using a 26.7-million-cubic-foot balloon flown from the National Balloon Facility in Hyderabad, India. The payload consisted of a cryosampler containing 16 evacuated and sterilized stainless steel probes that were immersed in liquid neon to create a cryopump effect. The cylinders, after collecting air samples from different heights, were parachuted to Earth and retrieved.

In all, 12 bacterial and six fungal colonies were detected, nine of which showed greater than 98 percent similarity with known species on Earth, the researchers said. Three bacterial colonies were deemed new species.

Although the study doesn't conclusively establish an extraterrestrial origin of the microorganisms, it does provide encouragement to continue the work in the quest to explore the origin of life, the scientists said.