Clouds May Harbor
By Amit Asaravala
Wired News

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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