Press Release

New evidence of living bacteria from space

By SpaceRef Editor
July 28, 2001
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Evidence of living bacterial cells entering the Earth’s upper atmosphere from space has come from a joint project involving Indian and UK scientists.

The first positive identification of extraterrestrial microbial life will be reported on Sunday, 29 July 2001 at the Astrobiology session of the 46th Annual SPIE meeting in San Diego, USA by Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe of Cardiff University. He will speak on behalf of an international team led by Professor Jayant Narlikar, Director of the Inter-Universities Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune, India.

Samples of stratospheric air were collected on 21 January 2001 under the most stringent aseptic conditions by Indian scientists using the Indian Space Research Organisationís (ISRO) cryogenic sampler payload flown on balloons from the Tata Institute Balloon Launching facility in Hyderabad. Part of the samples sent to Cardiff were analysed by a team at Cardiff University led by Professor David Lloyd and assisted by Melanie Harris.

Commenting on the results, Professor Wickramasinghe said:
“There is now unambiguous evidence for the presence of clumps of living cells in air samples from as high as 41 kilometres, well above the local tropopause (16 km), above which no air from lower down would normally be transported.”

The detection was made using a fluorescent cyanine dye which is only taken up by the membranes of living cells. The variation with height of the distribution of such cells indicates strongly that the clumps of bacterial cells are falling from space. The daily input of such biological material is provisionally estimated as about one third of a tonne over the entire planet.

This new evidence provides strong support for the Panspermia theory of Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe.

“We have argued for more than two decades that terrestrial life was brought down to Earth by comets and that cometary material containing microorganisms must still be reaching us in large quantities,” said Professor Wickramasinghe.

Notes for Editors

1.For a copy of the seven-page report, entitled “The detection of living cells in stratospheric samples”, including images, contact Debra Lewis, Cardiff University Press Officer on Tel: + 44 (0)29 2087 4499, mobile 07970 963633.

2. Cardiff University is home to the UK’s first Centre for Astrobiology, which provides the UK with a facility to contribute to space missions probing for life on solar system bodies. The Centre is a joint initiative between the University and the University of Wales College of Medicine. The Centre combines research interests in astronomy and molecular cell biology to throw light on the emergence and development of life in the cosmos and planetary bodies. The work of the Centre will also provide information essential for the emergent discipline of space medicine.

3.Cardiff University has a history of service to Wales and the world which dates from its foundation by Royal Charter in 1883. Today, independent government assessments recognise the University as one of Britainís leading research and teaching universities. Eighty per cent of academic staff are in departments assessed as undertaking work of national and international excellence and the University is, by invitation, a member of the Russell Group of leading research universities. Twenty-one subject areas have been assessed as “Excellent” for teaching, one of the highest totals in Britain.

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Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe
Cardiff University
+44 (0)29 2075 2146 mob: 07778 389243,

SpaceRef staff editor.