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Microbes: At least 1,000 species have been discovered in Tibetan glaciers

Microbes: At least 1,000 species have been discovered in Tibetan glaciers

Living in truly extreme conditions such as those we find in Tibetan glaciers it’s not easy at all, let alone for a microbe. Frosty temperatures, solar radiation, little food so for the researchers it was a surprise to see such extreme conditions beyond 1,000 species of microbes that lived in this place. This discovery was granted thanks to the first genome catalog dedicated to the glacier ecosystem.

The surfaces of these glaciers are populated by many organisms such as bacteria, algae, fungi and other species, so much so that the microorganisms they have adapted to these extreme conditions, contributing to vital ecological processes. Glacial ice can also act as a record of past microorganisms, with ancient airborne microorganisms having been successfully reanimated. Therefore, the glacial microbiome also constitutes an invaluable chronology of microbial life on our planet.

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Tibetan glaciers, species of microbes discovered living in extreme conditions

The team of researchers focused more on the Tibetan plateau. This region, consisting of 2.5 million square kilometers, is vital as a source of water for the surrounding areas in Asia and it has also been most affected by climate change, affecting over 80% of the glaciers that are melting. It is absolutely important for us to know the species of organisms that live in this region, since i climate change could wipe them out throughout our history.

The researchers embarked on a mammoth effort, sampling snow, ice and dust from 21 Tibetan glaciers between 2016 and 2020. They used metagenomic methods on the samples to collect all the genetic material present. They also cultivated some species in the laboratory to understand more and take more genomes. Incredibly, the82% of the genomes were new species. A whopping 11% of the species were found in just one glacier, while 10% were found in nearly all glaciers studied. This project was called the first genome catalog e hopefully it will be of help to future researchers for new species that will arise.

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The TG2G catalog offers a database and archiving platform, the analysis and comparison of glacier microbiomes at the genome and gene level. It is particularly timely as the glacier ecosystem is threatened by the global warming and glaciers are retreating at an unprecedented rate. This catalog is expected to be the basis of a comprehensive glacial microbiome archive.

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