Scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology have discovered a surprising amount of bacteria in the atmosphere, and the recently published study posits that such bacteria may be affecting the planet's climate and even the global spread of disease. Researchers collected samples of various microorganisms from about six miles above the planet's surface in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea before, during, and after hurricanes Earl and Karl in 2010.
Could airborne fecal matter make you sick?
They found 17 different types of bacteria capable of surviving in the troposphere — the lowest portion of Earth's atmosphere — consisting of marine, freshwater, and terrestrial microorganisms, and even human and animal fecal matter. Several fungi were also present, but bacteria were considerably more abundant at about 144 bacterial cells per cubic foot of air, making up about 20 percent of all particles in the 0.25-1 micron diameter range.
Based on the study, scientists hypothesize that the bacterial makeup of the atmosphere could potentially influence the planet's weather patterns, including cloud formation and precipitation levels. According to io9, researchers also speculate that the presence of Escherichia, Streptococcus, and other microscopic fecal matter could contribute to the spread of disease as the troposphere circulates.
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