Home Glaciers Frozen microbes in Tibetan glaciers sound the alarm

Frozen microbes in Tibetan glaciers sound the alarm


Experts are asking researchers and scientists to keep an eye on it, amid the possibility of new pandemics caused by these unknown microbes if they are released

Representative Pic. Istock

A recent study in the journal Nature Biotechnology that said “never-seen-before microbes locked in glacier ice could trigger a wave of new pandemics once released” has health experts worried.

Dr. Wiqar Shaikh, professor of medicine at Grant Medical College and Sir JJ Group of Hospitals, said he was stunned to read the paper, funded by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, published on June 27 by Chinese researchers from Lanzhou University. He said scientists took ice samples from 21 glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau and found 968 microbial species frozen in the ice and 98% of them are completely new to science and may be around 10,000 years old.

Stating that the climate crisis and global warming increase the chances of these potentially dangerous microbes leading to new pandemics, he added that there is also a possibility of genetic interaction between these microbes with existing ones, which could prove even more fatal. He also pointed out that glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau supply fresh water to several rivers in China and India, the two most populous countries, and added that pandemics spread rapidly in populated areas.

Dr Shaikh also cited another study published in the journal Nature on April 28, 2022 by researchers at Georgetown University in the United States which concluded that at least 10,000 species of viruses have the ability to infect humans. humans, but are currently circulating silently in wild animals. He said that due to climate change, wild animals will be forced to move their habitats, most likely to areas with high human populations, increasing the risk of viral jumps and spillovers that could lead to the next pandemic.

“With these studies warning us of new pandemics, we all need to take this issue very seriously. World leaders need to sit up and take notice of these landmark studies and their rather dangerous predictions that could seriously affect humanity in a near future,” he said. Speaking of possible solutions, he cited an article in the journal Science, published by the Harvard School of Public Health in the United States, which lists 3 ways to prevent the next pandemic: reduce deforestation, limit the global wildlife trade and increase surveillance and early detection of viruses.

Climate change and its effects

“The study of viable microorganisms in glaciers is a relatively new branch of ecological science. Understanding how bacteria and viruses come back to life when glaciers begin to melt due to climate change is not complex. As glaciers around the world melt at an alarming rate, the microbes released could travel with the meltwater in rivers and streams and reach populated areas, infecting plants, animals and humans. The glaciers of the Tibetan Plateau feed several rivers that lead to densely populated regions of China and India. The study of ecology is still expanding to new insights, as ancient bacteria and viruses over 15,000 years old come into contact with modern organisms and humans who may lack immunity to these micro-organisms. organisms causing new pandemics. It also explains why the 21st century is referred to as the century of pandemics,” said Dr. Subhash Hira, professor of global health at the University of Washington-Seattle.

He added: “For example, researchers found an outbreak of anthrax in Siberia five years ago believed to be the result of the pathogen being preserved in reindeer skeletons. Frozen for decades, the bodies thawed from the ground during an exceptional heat wave, releasing infectious spores of anthrax.

Need more research

“More research and development from the scientific community could provide more concrete evidence, which could be crucial for strengthening public health systems globally,” Dr Hira said. Dr Jacob John, a veteran virologist from Tamil Nadu, said: “We don’t know much about these viruses and bacteria living in glaciers and deep seas, and in remote places. It is important that we modernize our research and development. Climate change will certainly unravel microbes that we haven’t seen in the past. But I don’t think these can have as deadly an effect as SARS-CoV-2 because they are not animal bacteria or viruses like SARS-CoV-2. »

Number of microbial species found