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Hailstones unravel microbial life in storm cloud

Last Updated: Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 21:41

Copenhagen: Researchers have discovered a rich diversity of microbial life and chemicals in the transitory habitat of a storm cloud.

Tina Santl Temkiv and colleagues from Aarhus University, Denmark, analysed hailstones recovered after a storm in May 2009 and found that they carried several species of bugs typically found on plants and almost 3,000 different compounds usually found in soil.

"When we started these analyses, we were hoping to arrive at a merely descriptive characterization of the bacterial community in an unexplored habitat," says Ulrich Gosewinkel Karlson, aeromicrobiologist from Aarhus, who led the study.

"But what we found was indirect evidence for life processes in the atmosphere, such as bacterial selection and growth," adds Karlson, the journal Public Library of Science ONE reports.

However, the hailstones had very few soil-linked bugs or chemicals that would usually occur in plants. Three of the bacterial species discovered were found in most of the hailstones studied, and may represent "typical" cloud inhabitants, according to an Aarhus statement.

This selective enrichment of certain plant bacteria and soil chemicals in the hailstones reveals how specific processes during the lifetime of a cloud may impact certain bacteria more than others.

They suggest that these processes could affect the long-distance transport and geographical distribution of microbes on earth, the researchers say.


First Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 21:41

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