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JAMA 100 Years Ago
January 15, 2003


Author Affiliations

JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer Reiling, Assistant Editor.

JAMA. 2003;289(3):366. doi:10.1001/jama.289.3.366-a

Those who have read Mr. H. G. Wells' ingenious fiction, "The War of the Worlds," in which the superior beings from another planet threatened to destroy the existing population of the earth, but were overcome by the microbes which they found, will be interested in the recent speculation of the reverse of this by a Western scientist. He asks, is there any reason why small living bodies, such as spores or microbes, should not be floating about by themselves in the interstellar space and, in some ways which are easily conceivable, from time to time enter into our atmosphere and infect our planet? In this way the origin of new diseases and possibly of many other phenomena which we can not foretell might be accounted for. The idea is not an altogether new or extravagant one; Sir William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) theorized on the introduction of life into our planet by meteoric bodies. He suggested that spores floating about in the atmosphere of this or some similar planet might easily become detached in the upper regions where we know perpetual hurricanes exist and, if shot off on a tangent, might wander through space beyond the reach of gravitation until sometime they come within our own or some other sphere of attraction and develop under the conditions that they find. Recent experiments have shown that the greatest degree of cold that can be artificially produced, probably fully as great as that in the interstellar space, does not have an effect on bacterial life, at least not on all forms of it. In this way the prospects of the possible morbidity on our earth, and perhaps of some things that are much better, is illimitable. The speculation is one that is at least respectable and perhaps might be seriously considered.

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