PureInsight | February 17, 2003
[Pureinsight.org] How far up into the sky does the biosphere extend? Do microorganisms exist at heights of 40 km and in what quantity? To answer these questions several research institutes in India collaborated on a groundbreaking project to send balloon-borne sterile "cryosamplers" into the stratosphere. The program led by cosmologist Professor Jayant Narlikar, Director of the Inter University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune, with scientists at the Indian Space Research Organization and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Studies. 
According to a news release published by the Science Daily News, on December 18, 2002, large volumes of air from the stratosphere at heights ranging from 20 to 41km were collected on January 21, 2001. Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe of Cardiff University organized the analysis of the samples in the UK.
At the end of 2002, a team of biologists at Cardiff University's School of Biosciences reported evidence of viable bacteria in air samples at 41km in such quantity that implied a worldwide settling rate of one ton of bacterial material per day. Dr Milton Wainwright of Sheffield University's Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology isolated a fungus and two bacteria from one of the space derived samples collected at 41km. The presence of bacteria in these samples was then independently confirmed. These results were published in this month's issue of a prestigious journal of microbiology, FEMS Letters (Wainwright et al, 2002), published by Elsevier. The isolated organisms are very similar to known terrestrial varieties. There are however notable differences in their detailed properties, possibly pointing to a different origin. Furthermore, it should be stressed that these microorganisms are not common laboratory contaminants.
In the recent years, the discovery of microorganisms in the stratosphere has led to the proposal of modern Theory of Panspermia. This theory states that the Earth was seeded in the past, and is still being seeded, with microorganisms from comets.
There are many different life forms in the universe. In the December 16 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a research team reveals that Lake Vida in Antarctic may represent a previously unknown ecosystem, a frigid, "ice-sealed," lake that contains the thickest non-glacial lake ice cover on Earth. This lake has water seven times saltier than seawater. Because of the arid, chilled environment in which it resides, scientists believe that the lake may also offer clues to likely environments for finding signs of ancient, Martian, microbial life. A member of the research team, Peter Doran of the University of Illinois at Chicago said, "Mars is believed to have had a water rich past and if life developed, a Lake Vida-type ecosystem may have been the final niche for life on Mars before the water bodies froze solid."
The vast differences among live forms are also reflected in other areas. For example, scientists have discovered that pure water reacts differently to different information from the outside world, including music, language and thought.  Mankind has yet to fully recognize the existence of life in this form, which might become a major research field in life sciences.
The Chinese version is available at http://www.zhengjian.org/zj/articles/2003/2/3/20297.html