On 22 May, a team of microbiologists used a prototype cloud-catcher mounted on a research plane to collect samples from low-lying cumulus clouds near Oxford, England. The researchers, from the University of East London (UEL), are investigating whether an active and self-sustaining ecosystem exists in clouds, and whether airborne microbes may play an active role in forming clouds and causing rainfall.

While scientists have known that microorganisms, including bacteria, fungal spores, and algae, can survive and possibly reproduce in the atmosphere, the challenge, according to the UEL researchers, is to accurately detect, identify, and analyze microbial communities.