Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology
Historical Background


Samples of a red rain that fell across the state of Kerala in India in July-August 2001 have been found to contain microscopic red cells (Louis and Kumar, 2006) of unknown origin. The early fall was associated with the 'thunder' and flash of a large meteor. They report that the cells appear to be very unusual in lacking a nucleus and DNA. Dr. Godfrey Louis kindly supplied us with a sample of this material for independent investigation in Cardiff.

High resolution electron microscopy has revealed internal structures as well as evidence of a replication cycle not commonly found in either bacteria or yeasts. These images are of thin cell slices viewed in the transmission electron microscope.

The first (above) shows three cells around 3 micrometres in diameter, with thick cell walls and a variety of nanostructures within a membrane, but with no identifiable nucleus. Apparent holes in the cell wall are real. The cell on the right has larger holes and may have lost its cytoplasm.

The second picture shows a cell with shrunken membrane containing 'daughters' - two have well-defined cell walls while the third structure may be a further daughter in the process of development.

The latter picture (scale bar is 300 nanometres) shows the full resolution of that pictured in New Scientist magazine of 1st April 2006 (No. 2545, p.12; with the caption "Does it look alien to you?". New Scientist letters have also carried various suggestions for known terrestrial micro-organisms - these pictures should stimulate further ideas! (Copyright on pictures - reproduction is permitted providing the acknowledgement is included - source: CCAB, Cardiff University.)

Further work in progress has yeilded positive for DNA using DAPI staining in the cells and daughters. However, this identification is not yet fully confirmed, and might be considered equivocal. We hope to pursue our efforts in extracting DNA (if it exists), amplifying it and carrying out genetic sequencing, but his work takes time.


Godfrey Louis, A. Santhosh Kumar: The red rain phenomenon of Kerala and its possible extraterrestrial origin, Astrophysics & Space Sci. (in press 2006),Preprint on line

Godfrey Louis, A. Santhosh Kumar: Cometary panspermia explains the red rain of Kerala ( 2003) ,Preprint on line

Persons associated with this work

Cardiff University: N.C. Wickramasinghe, N. Miyake, S.Al-Mufti, M.K.Wallis (CCAB), A.C. Hann (Biosci. EM Lab), D. Lloyd, S.K. Sheppard (Microbiology group)

Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala. India: G. Louis and S. Kumar




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Last updated 30 March 2006