Hailstones reveal life in a storm cloud

January 23, 2013, Public Library of Science
This image shows a storm cloud building up in Namibia. Storm clouds often contain hailstones, which in temperate regions can reach the ground. Credit: Nina Ražen

It isn't life on Mars, but researchers have found a rich diversity of microbial life and chemicals in the ephemeral habitat of a storm cloud, according to a study published January 23 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Tina Šantl Temkiv and colleagues from Aarhus University, Denmark.

The researchers analyzed hailstones recovered after a storm in May 2009 and found that they carried several typically found on plants and almost 3000 different compounds usually found in soil. However, the hailstones had very few soil-associated bacteria or chemicals that would usually occur in plants. Three of the discovered were found in most of the hailstones studied, and may represent 'typical' cloud inhabitants, the study reports.

According to the authors, 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.

"When we started these analyses, we were hoping to arrive at a merely descriptive characterization of the bacterial community in an unexplored habitat. But what we found was indirect evidence for life processes in the atmosphere, such as bacterial selection and growth," says Ulrich Gosewinkel Karlson, leader of the aeromicrobiology research group at Aarhus University.

Explore further: Desert farming forms bacterial communities that promote drought resistance

More information: Santl-Temkiv T, Finster K, Dittmar T, Hansen BM, Thyrhaug R, et al. (2013) Hailstones: A Window into the Microbial and Chemical Inventory of a Storm Cloud. PLOS ONE 8(1): e53550. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0053550

Related Stories

The role of bacteria in weather events

May 24, 2011

Researchers have discovered a high concentration of bacteria in the center of hailstones, suggesting that airborne microorganisms may be responsible for that and other weather events. They report their findings today at ...

Bacterial community inside the plant root

August 3, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Soil is the most species-rich microbial ecosystem in the world. From this incredible diversity, plants specifically choose certain species, give them access to the root and so host a unique, carefully selected ...

Plant perfumes woo beneficial bugs

April 24, 2012

Scientists funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) have discovered that maize crops emit chemical signals which attract growth-promoting microbes to live amongst their roots. This is the ...

Some trees 'farm' bacteria to help supply nutrients

July 29, 2010

Some trees growing in nutrient-poor forest soil may get what they need by cultivating specific root microbes to create compounds they require. These microbes are exceptionally efficient at turning inorganic minerals into ...

Recommended for you

Genome of American cockroach sequenced for the first time

March 23, 2018

A team of researchers with South China Normal University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences has for the first time sequenced the genome of the American cockroach. In their paper published in the journal Nature Communications, ...

New innovations in cell-free biotechnology

March 23, 2018

A Northwestern University-led team has developed a new way to manufacture proteins outside of a cell that could have important implications in therapeutics and biomaterials.

Study tracks protein's role in stem cell function

March 23, 2018

MCL-1 is a member of the BCL-2 family of proteins important for blocking apoptosis, or programmed cell death. Many types of cancer cells escape the body's effort to kill them by overexpressing MCL-1.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.