900 microbes buried in Tibetan glacier could cause new pandemic

Jakarta

Scientists discover more than 900 species microbes never seen before. Hundreds of new microbes discovered in highland glaciers Tibetand potentially cause pandemic only when the ice melts and is exposed to the outside world.

In the new study, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences took ice samples from 21 glaciers in the Tibetan plateau, an area squeezed by the Himalayas and the Taklamakan Desert.

After performing genome sequencing, the research team found 968 species of microbes living in the ice. Most are bacteria, but there are also algae, archaea, and fungi.

Surprisingly, 98% of the microbial species discovered were new, never-before-seen species. The findings have left scientists dumbfounded because the glacier’s environment is inhospitable for life like this.

“Despite environmental conditions, such as low temperatures, high radiation levels, periodic freeze-thaw cycles, and nutrient restrictions, glacier surfaces support a wide variety of life,” the research team wrote in their study published in the journal Nature Biotechnology. (2/7/2022).

The combination of the diversity of microbial species and the rapidly melting ice due to climate change worries scientists. The reason is that if there are harmful bacteria that manage to get out, it can cause a local epidemic to pandemic new.

From the Tibetan Glacier Genome and Gene (TG2G) catalog compiled based on the results of genome sequencing, researchers found 27,000 potential virulence factors or molecules that can help bacteria attack and colonize potential hosts.

Scientists warn that 47% of these virulence factors have never been seen before, so it’s not known how dangerous the bacteria buried in these glaciers are.

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Even if these harmful bacteria don’t survive long after emerging from the glacier, they can still cause big problems. The reason is, bacteria that are dead can still spread some of their virulence to other bacteria they meet.

Glaciers in the Tibetan plateau are also potential sources pandemic future as the ice in this region melts and drains a number of major rivers, including the Yangtze River, Yellow River, and the Ganges River. These rivers are the source of water in the two largest countries in the world: China and India.

But this problem doesn’t just affect people in Asia. There are more than 20,000 glaciers worldwide that may have their own unique microbial community. Combined with the accelerated melting of ice due to climate change, these microbes have the potential to cause new pandemics if allowed to escape.

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