Chennai: Indian space agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) may have achieved a unique distinction with a balloon-based experiment discovering three new species of bacteria not found on Earth. The species, said to be highly resistant to ultraviolet radiation, have been discovered in the upper stratosphere (more than 15 km above the earth), a ISRO statement has said.
According to ISRO, three bacterial colonies, namely, PVAS-1, B3 W22 and B8 W22 are a totally new species and have significantly higher UV resistance compared to their nearest phylogenetic neighbours. PVAS-1, identified as a member of the genus Janibacter, has been named Janibacter hoylei in honour of the noted British astrophysicist Fred Hoyle. The second new species B3 W22 was named as Bacillus isronensis, in recognition of its own contribution to the experiment and the third new species B8 W22 as Bacillus aryabhata, after the fabled Indian astronomer.
An ISRO statement said: ''The precautionary measures and controls operating in this experiment inspire confidence that these species were picked up in the stratosphere. While the present study does not conclusively establish the extra-terrestrial origin of micro-organisms, it does provide positive encouragement to continue the work in our quest to explore the origin of life.''
The experiment was carried out with the help of a helium-filled, 26.7 million cubic feet, balloon which was carrying 459 kg of scientific payload, soaked in 38 kg of liquid neon.
The balloon was flown from the National Balloon Facility in Hyderabad and operated by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai.
The payload consisted of a cryo-sampler containing16 sterilised stainless steel probes. These probes were immersed in liquid neon throughout the duration of the flight to create a cryo-pump effect. After these cylinders collected air samples from different heights, ranging from 20 to 41 km, they were brought down with parachutes and retrieved.
The samples were analysed by scientists at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, and the National Centre for Cell Sciences (NCCS), Pune.
In all, 12 bacterial and six fungal colonies were detected of which three bacterial colonies were a totally new species.