“We found that when a microlitre of the rain specimen was heated in a specially-made pressure chamber, the cells replicated several folds at 300 degrees Celsius. We are waiting to publish this in a scientific journal and get it peer-reviewed,’’ said Dr Godfrey Louis, professor and head of the university’s department of physics.
There were reports of red rain from several parts of Pathanamthitta, Kozhikode, Kannur and other places in July - August 2001.
Dr Louis told Deccan Herald that unlike in the case of bacteria, the cells multiplied as intra-cellular offspring. The new finding would also be touched upon in a paper to be presented by him at the SPIE international conference on optics and photonics to be held at San Diego, California in August. It was Dr Louis and a PhD student A Santhoshkumar who had been jointly working on the astrobiological phenomenon from 2001.
The new results would add some substance to the duo’s previous finding that DNA cells were absent in the red rain cells despite these showing a clear cell structure in transmission microscopy.
High resolution electron microscopy had then revealed internal structures as well as evidence of a replication cycle not commonly found in either bacteria or yeasts.
The research results were later published in the international journal Astrophysics and Space Science.
Researchers from UK-based Cardiff University’s Centre for Astrobiology had then come down to Kerala to study the phenomenon. Dr Louis now thinks that the red cells may be indications of alternate forms of life surviving in high temperatures.
“We believe that the origin of the red particles was from cometary fragments which underwent atmospheric disintegration above Kerala,” he said.
Bacteria in volcanoes
However, those who were dismissive of the findings had earlier contended that these could be just algae. Terrestrially, there is evidence of bacteria surviving at about 122 degrees Celsius near the sites of undersea volcanoes.
“What we have are solid findings from the cell culture and there may be much more to reveal. But I know it is a long way before the findings are accepted by the scientific community,” Dr Louis said.