Discovery of 1,000 microbes trapped in ice for thousands of years


Chinese scientists have discovered nearly 1,000 microbes, bacteria and viruses trapped in the glaciers of the Tibetan plateau. The melting of the ice will gradually release these microorganisms which are several thousand years old.

the tibet plateau it is considered the third pole with 46,000 glaciers : joins the third largest concentration of ice of the world, after the north and south poles. The surfaces of glaciers are far from devoid of life, they contain a large number of different life forms, such as for example bacteriaof the algaemushrooms or even archaea. These microorganisms play an important role inecology glaciers. It was in this environment that a team of Chinese scientists discovered 968 of them species different from microbes. These microbes live in extreme conditions: freezing temperatures, high levels of solar radiation, virtually no food sources. They have the ability to freeze and thaw depending on the temperatures. Chinese scientists are currently leading to research projecttitled ” catalog of genomes And Genoa of the Tibetan Glacier “ (TG2G), intended to be supplemented by the discovery of new organisms as research progresses.

80% of Tibetan glaciers are melting

The Tibet Plateau, an area of ​​2.5 million square kilometers, is an important source of water supply for the Asian cities that border it. The so-called “Asian water tower” is heating up three times faster than the global average. According to the World Meteorological Organizationmost of the Tibetan Plateau experienced a decrease in snow days between 1980 and 2016, with an average decrease of less than 2 days / year over nearly half of the region and more than 4 days / year in some areas. Climate change has already caused 80% of the plateau’s glaciers to shrink.

Scientists believe it is necessary to catalog the microbes of these glaciers to assess the consequences, and possible problems, with merger ice, and therefore with the dispersion of these microbes. The team has already counted 3,241 genomes from 21 glaciers between 2016 and 2020. About 82% of the genomes are new species, 11% of these species were found on the same glacier and 10% on all glaciers studied. . These glaciers are true “recorders” of life in the past, as they trap microbes from 10,000 years ago which can come back to life when conditions are favorable. In 2021, another study of Chinese scientists had identified 33 viruses (including 28 unknown) trapped on the Guliya ice shelf in Tibet. The age of some of these discovered viruses has been estimated to be more than 15,000 years.

With global warming, microbes, viruses, carbon and methane are released

How germs, viruses, bacteria and mushrooms get stuck in the ice? According to Chinese researchers, these viruses come mainly from the plants and soil in which they were grown. Dust from this 10,000- or 15,000-year-old soil simply got trapped in the ice, as did large amounts of carbon and methane: 12 million tons of carbon would be trapped in the Tibetan ice. The melting of ice linked to global warming therefore presents a multiple danger, already in motion: the dispersion into the atmosphere of these greenhouse gases that will once again aggravate global warming, but also of these microorganisms present in Tibetan lands and waters.

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