Tibet: Thousand species of microbes discovered in glaciers



by LORENZO CIOTTI

Tibet: Thousand species of microbes discovered in glaciers

In Tibet, climate change and the melting of glaciers have brought to light at least a thousand new species of microbes, of which 82% are still unknown. The discovery was made by an international research team led by scientists: the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Pan-third Pole Environmental Center of the University of Lanzhou, the Department of Environmental Sciences - iClimate of the University of Aarhus of Denmark, the School of Chemistry and Molecular Sciences of the University of Queensland in Australia.

Most of the microbes discovered in ice deposits are thousands of years old. The Tibetan Plateau, where the largest area of ​​glaciers is found at low latitudes on Earth, is particularly exposed to the dramatic effects of climate change.

Tibet: Thousand species of microbes discovered in glaciers

The researchers, coordinated by Professor Yongqin Liu, a member of the State Key Laboratory of Tibetan Plateau Earth System, Resources and Environment of the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, came to their conclusions after sampling snow, ice and cryoconite from 21 different glaciers of the Tibetan Plateau, which they visited between 2016 and 2020.

Professor Liu and colleagues sequenced 85 metagenomes and 883 cultured isolates. In all, 968 species belonging to thirty different phylogenetic groups have been identified. From the analysis of the genomes, as many as 82 percent were made up of entirely new species.

There is a well-founded fear that some of the new bacteria could be very dangerous to humans and other organisms. Researchers explain: "The catalog also contains over 25 million non-redundant protein-coding genes, the usefulness of which is demonstrated by exploring the biosynthetic potentials of secondary metabolites, identifying the virulence factor, and global comparison of the glacier metagenome.

The TG2G catalog is a valuable resource that allows a better understanding of the structure and functions of Tibetan glacial microbiomes. Despite extreme environmental conditions, such as low temperatures, high levels of solar radiation, periodic freeze-thaw cycles and nutrient scarcity, the surfaces of glaciers contain a wide range of life forms."