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Nanobacteria in Clouds May Spread Diseases Around the World

Environent News Service | April 11, 2005

CARDIFF, UK - The scientist who discovered that dust in interstellar space and in comets is largely organic, now says that nanobacteria in clouds are responsible for spreading illnesses such as kidney stones, heart disease, and HIV around the world.

Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe of Cardiff University says in a recent article in the Journal of Proteome Research that these ulta-tiny organisms are wide-spread on land and in the atmosphere, and that they play a crucial role in the spread of disease.

Nanobacteria are the smallest known self-replicating bacteria, about 100-fold smaller than regular bacteria. At 30-100 nanometers in size, they are far smaller than any other known bacteria, and are even smaller than many viruses. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter.

Co-author Dr. Andrei Sommer of the University of Ulm, Germany agrees that nanobacteria are indicated in the formation of kidney stones, heart disease, and HIV. Both scientists say the scientific community is slowly recognizing the role of nanobacteria in these diseases.

"Experiments have shown that nanobacteria are excreted from the body in urine and their dispersal from the ground into the atmosphere and stratosphere appears to be inevitable," said Dr. Sommer.

In humans, nanobacteria have now been identified on four continents, the two scientists say.

Dr. Chandra Wickramasinghe of Sri Lanka is professor of Applied Mathematics and Astronomy at Cardiff University of Wales. (Photo by Keith Davies courtesy Lankaweb )
Nanobacteria are of great interest to the scientific community because of their dual nature, the scientists write, "on the one hand, they appear as primal biosystems originating life; on the other hand, they can cause severe diseases."

They say nanobacteria are now accepted as being widely prevalent in the terrestrial environment and that they have compelling evidence for the existence of these nano-organisms, even in the stratosphere, one of the atmosphere's highest layers.

The scientists maintain that the occurrence of nanobacteria in clouds could disperse infective agents globally, and might also play a prominent role in "the nucleation of cloud drops."

"This happens because nanobacteria, lifted from the ground by winds, could transit between the high humidity region of the clouds and the relatively dry inter-cloud regions, leading to oscillations between a dormant state and one of activation," explained Wickramasinghe.

"Remnants of a sticky protein coating nanobacteria makes them act as extremely efficient cloud condensation nuclei, with a tendency to aggregate to clusters upon contact," he said.

Dr. Andrei Sommer works at the Central Institute of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Ulm. (Photo credit unknown)
Their work corroborates the findings of Ruprecht Jaenicke, of the Institute for Atmospheric Physics at Mainz University, Germany, on bioaerosols - airborne contaminants - and proteins in the atmosphere reported in "New Scientist" and "Science."

The contribution of nanobacteria to pathogenic bioaerosols must overwhelm all other types of biological particles in the atmosphere, the authors say.

Researchers from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have reported rapid kidney stone formation in astronauts on space travels. The authors of a study published in "Kidney International" call for a "major initiative" to investigate nanobacteria as a possible cause.

Trials were conducted at NASA to examine nanobacteria in a bioreactor chamber which simulates conditions of space travel. In this microgravity environment, nanobacteria was found to multiply five times faster compared to normal gravity on Earth, supporting earlier discoveries that microbes have radically different behavior in weightless environments. Nanobacteria is also shown to possibly be an infectious risk for crew members living in close quarters.

Nanobacteria were discovered in the 1990s and have been found in the calcium phosphate centers of kidney stones. The minuscule bacteria have also been detected in related conditions, including Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, prostatitis, and some cancers.

Further testing for the presence of nanobacteria in human bodies can help reduce the risk for kidney stone formation in astronauts and would also be of benefit to the nearly one million Americans who are treated for kidney stones each year.

But the idea that nanobacteria are alive at all is still not accepted universally. "The concept that nanobacteria are living organisms is still controversial because the research on their putative nucleic acid has not been completed yet," says NASA researcher Neva Ciftcioglu, Ph.D.

"Hopefully, eradication or treatment of these diseases will be possible in the near future," says Ciftcioglu. "We need more research and support to solve this puzzle, but we feel that we are close."

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