Bugs may control weather: Study
LONDON, England -- British scientists have launched a study to find out if airborne bugs in clouds control the Earth's weather.
Scientists believe certain bug species may have evolved the ability to manipulate the weather in order to secure their own survival.
A team of microbiologists from the University of East London (UEL) are examining if the microbes play an active role in the formation of clouds and making it rain.
Using a revolutionary "cyclonic cloud catcher", the team, led by Dr Bruce Moffett, will collect samples of cloud water from aircraft and on uplands across the UK.
These samples will then be analysed to discover the composition and activity of any microbes present.
Preliminary analysis of samples already taken from low-lying cumulus clouds near Oxford has shown the presence of micro-organisms, including ammonia-oxidising bacteria.
The 18-month pilot project, funded by a $190,000 (£130,000) grant from the Natural Environment Research Council, aims to test the theory that a self-sustaining ecosystem exists in clouds and that bacteria and algae play a key role in creating clouds and triggering rainfall.
Until now scientists have been unable to accurately detect, identify and analyse microbial communities in harsh conditions.
Dr Moffett said: "We are looking for evidence that microbial metabolism could have a major influence on patterns of climate and weather today.
"A really exciting possibility is that microbes have evolved ways of triggering cloud formation and rainfall to facilitate their own dispersal and reproduction, in other words, they could be controlling the weather."
The research could prove significant in medical and biotechnology fields, with the possibility that some of the microbes discovered may have natural screening against ultra violet rays or processes to neutralise greenhouse gases.
The study will also help scientists understand the movement of airborne pathogens such as those which spread foot-and-mouth disease among cattle.
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