It’s raining viruses and pouring bacteria out there

It’s raining viruses and pouring bacteria out there

Get your umbrella out, for the first time scientists have counted the millions of viruses that are swept up from the planet’s surface and fall back to earth in rain and dust.

The researchers from Spain, Canada and the U.S.A used platform sites high in Spain’s Sierra Nevada Mountains to measure the material carried above 2,500 to 3,000 metres. The team found billions of viruses and tens of millions of bacteria were being deposited per square metre per day.

Nasa dust storm

Viruses and bacteria fall back to Earth via dust storms and precipitation. Saharan dust intrusions from North Africa and rains from the Atlantic.  ©NASA

“Roughly 20 years ago we began finding genetically similar viruses occurring in very different environments around the globe,” said University of British Columbia virologist Curtis Suttle, one of the authors of the study published recently in the International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal “This preponderance of long-residence viruses travelling the atmosphere likely explains why–it’s quite conceivable to have a virus swept up into the atmosphere on one continent and deposited on another.”

The majority of the viruses carried signatures indicating they had been swept up into the air from sea spray. Deposition rates of bacteria were higher during rain and Saharan dust events, whereas, rainfall did not significantly affect the way viruses landed.

This work provides an explanation for the presence of genetically similar viruses found in very distant and different environments.

Can we trick bacteria into letting us live in peace?

We’re losing the war against bacteria, our antibiotic supplies are low and some infections caused by Streptococcus bacteria can be fatal. But, what if you could trick bacteria into disarming and stop that war before it starts?

streptococcus pyogenes - CDC

Streptococcus pyogenes ©CDC

A group of researchers at the The University of Illinois think this may be possible by targeting the way bacteria produce chemical signals to coordinate behaviours across bacterial population.

This process is called quorum sensing and the researches, whose work was recently published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry ,investigated whether signals between Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria could be manipulated to remain in a non-hostile state, something potentially valuable in the face of rising antibiotic resistance in society.

“We identified a molecule that disrupts inhibition of signalling,” said Michael Federle, associate professor of medicinal chemistry and pharmacognosy in the UIC College of Pharmacy. “Now that we identified this pathway and this chemical compound, we can look further for ways to manipulate quorum sensing and even silence the communication between cells.”


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