Some Microbes Are So Resilient They Can Ride Hurricanes | Smart News | Smithsonian
Current Issue
October 2014 magazine cover
Subscribe

Save 81% off the newsstand price!

Keeping you current

Some Microbes Are So Resilient They Can Ride Hurricanes

By comparison, other lifeforms such as fungal spores and pollen don’t thrive nearly as well as the microbes, the survey found.

smithsonian.com

2011′s Hurricane Irene, as seen from space. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Germophobes might not want to read this one. New research has found that there are some microbes that are so resilient that they can actually ride hurricanes.

A tropospheric survey, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found 17 individual bacterial species as high as 10 kilometers (more than six miles) in the air, according to David Biello on Scientific American’s Observations blog. By comparison, other lifeforms such as fungal spores and pollen don’t thrive nearly as well as the microbes, the survey found.

Swept up in the air by wind and water, these bacteria not only survive in the stratosphere; they actually gain nourishment from it. And unfortunately, what goes up must come down:

…judging by these samples, hurricanes and possibly other storms, help convey enormous amounts of a lot of different bacteria around the world.

Samples from Hurricane Karl and Earl (both in September 2010) showed that the big storms both rained out bacteria from the atmosphere and also swept up some species not usually found so high, including E. coli and Streptococcus, especially after passing over cities and other populated areas. In the case of Hurricane Earl, there were even soil microbes from that tropical cyclone’s origins as a dusty wind in the Sahara Desert.

As Smart News wrote last month, previous research published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology revealed that microbes were capable of traveling by “vast streams of dust,” even crossing oceans and spreading from one continent to another.

Purell addicts already suffering through this year’s unusually rough flu season are advised not to think too hard about germs so tough that they can survive ultraviolet rays, extreme cold and Category 4 hurricane winds.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Painting With Penicillin: Alexander Fleming’s Germ Art
Dirty Curiosity Rover Could Seed Mars with Earthly Bacteria
Watch All of 2012′s Hurricanes in One Video

Tags

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus