- Tiny particles linked to a number of painful and sometimes
deadly diseases may spread across the globe by hitching a ride in clouds,
claim researchers in a recent issue of the Journal of Proteome Research.
- The particles, known as nanobacteria, are 100 times smaller
than typical bacteria and have been found in kidney stones, arterial plaques
and ovarian cancers.
- But scientists have yet to agree whether the particles
actually cause the diseases or how they infect humans.
- Also unknown is whether the particles are life forms
or an unknown type of crystal -- a rift that has sparked one of the biggest
controversies in modern microbiology.
- Now, a new theory by Andrei Sommer, of the University
of Ulm, Germany, and N. Chandra Wickramasinghe, of Cardiff University in
the United Kingdom, attempts to show how nanobacteria moves from humans
to the environment and back.
- In a letter in the February issue of the Journal of Proteome
Research, the pair describe studies suggesting that nanobacteria exist
in the atmosphere -- at least above Hyderabad, India, where the researchers
captured samples of the air with a specially designed balloon.
- The nanobacteria particles closely resembled those found
in humans when compared on seven key criteria, including size and shape
-- a finding that suggests humans can be infected through the atmosphere.
- In the journal's introduction to the paper, Sommer theorizes
that the particles may be introduced to the atmosphere through human urine,
which enters waste-water streams and becomes aerosolized.
- Once in the atmosphere, the nanobacteria can fall back
to Earth in dry or wet form. The researchers think dry forms are relatively
harmless, but wet forms, in raindrops, would be more likely to be infectious
because the nanobacteria would still be "active."
- "Inactive, transiently desiccated microorganisms,
transported back from the dry atmosphere to the Earth by gravity, are likely
to cause little harm, compared to those returning in rain drops, after
having been incorporated for some time in long-lived clouds, where they
would encounter better conditions for revitalization," wrote the researchers.
- The researchers also suggested that nanobacteria could
help clouds develop by clumping together at the perfect size to promote
the collection of airborne water droplets.
- Attempts to contact Sommer and Wickramasinghe after business
hours Friday were unsuccessful.
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