Rain-Making Bacteria

All through the lessons on the water cycle in elementary school, I learned that precipitation was formed from dust and other particles in the atmosphere that caused water to stick together and form a ball of ice. However, this may not be the only way precipitation is formed. Inside the centers of these spheres of ice are actually living bacteria. Brent Christner, a microbiologist at Louisiana State University, has discovered that most of our precipitation is actually formed by bacteria that act as a nuclei for water droplets to cluster around.  As it increases in size, it will fall out of the cloud and onto the ground. The bacteria have been found all over the world, including Australia, France, Russia and the U.S.

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Moreover, most of the bacteria are plant pathogens, and make use of the water cycle to sustain their own population. As the precipitation falls onto the ground, some of it will make it to plants and crops, causing its cells to break down and creating an opportunity for bacteria to attack the plant. The wind will then carry the bacteria into the atmosphere, where it produces precipitation and again, falls onto another plant, creating an effective cycle. This creates a significant problem in agriculture.

Pseudomonas syringae bacteria in a dish.

Pseudomonas syringae bacteria, a plant pathogen, in a dish.

Seeing so many of my friends eat snow as it falls in the wintertime, I couldn’t help but try it out too. But now, the next time I see a snowflake, I will probably think twice before sticking my tongue out.

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