No one is ever pleased to see a dark, grey cloud heading in their direction. According to new research, however, it seems we now have more to fear than just rainy storms. A recent study conducted by Canadian and French researchers suggests that dark clouds carry drug-resistant bacteria for many miles. This bizarrely unique and unexpected finding is a pretty terrifying prospect. Does this mean we should prepare for more than just soaked clothing next time we head out into a storm? Here's everything we know so far...
"These bacteria usually live on the surface of vegetation like leaves or in soil," the study's director, Florent Rossi, explained to AFP. "We found that they are carried by the wind into the atmosphere and can travel long distances – around the world – at high altitudes in clouds." The research was conducted at Laval University in Quebec City alongside scientists at Clermont Auvergne University in France.
To conduct the study, cloud samples were taken for analysis. These were taken from a research station 1,465 meters above sea level specializing in atmospheric components. To be precise, it's located on the Puy de Dome summit, a non-active volcano that can be found in central France. The samples were extracted between the months of September 2019 and October 2021. The retrieved mist was then tested for antibiotic-resistant genes, where an average of 8,000 bacteria were found per milliliter. Twenty-nine subtypes of antibiotic-resistant genes were identified.
Drug resistance is a "major sanitary concern worldwide," as increased exposure to antibiotics helps the bacteria build immunity and makes it more difficult to treat infections. The study did not detail their cloud's potential health impacts but estimated that the risk is low due to the inactivity of the organisms. "The atmosphere is very stressful for bacteria, and most of those we found were environmental bacteria, which are less likely to be harmful to humans," Rossi explained. "So people shouldn't be afraid to go for a walk in the rain. It's unclear if those genes would be transmitted to other bacteria." That being said, he emphasized the importance of their work in identifying the sources of drug-resistant bacteria and limiting their dispersal. A final version of the article is available in the Science of The Total Environment journal.