Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (ACC) found nearly 1,000 species of microbes, most never seen before, in snow and ice samples collected from 21 glaciers in Tibet. The findings were published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.
In the study, the ACC team assesses how species of bacteria and viruses in snow and ice could reach other regions.
According to scientists, the discovery and analysis of the samples sparks warning signs for the spread of disease as glaciers melt.
Ice sheets and glaciers cover approximately 10% of the Earth’s surface and also serve as the largest reservoir of fresh water. In other research, analyzes show that under the influence of climate change, ice sheets and glaciers are melting rapidly.
To understand how melting glaciers could impact human life in terms of global health, researchers collected snow and ice samples from 21 glaciers in Tibet over the years 2010 to 2016.
Each piece collected was melted and then tested to see what was in the water left behind. The result showed 968 unique species of microorganisms, 98% of which science was unaware of.
This, however, is not the first time researchers have found new types of viruses in the Asian region. In another study, scientists found several viruses in ice that are 15,000 years old — most of which have never been seen before.
According to scholars, the problem with these bacteria and viruses is that they can be infectious to animals and humans.
“Glacier surfaces have a diverse range of life, including bacteria, algae, archaea, fungi and other microeukaryotes. Microorganisms have demonstrated the ability to adapt to these extreme conditions and contribute to vital ecological processes,” they wrote.
According to the research, the microbes they studied came from a particularly important part of the world – melting snow and ice in Tibet feeds several rivers that lead to densely populated areas in China and India.
The team indicates that the finding sheds light on immediate research into whether microorganisms soon to be released from glaciers around the world could pose any threat of a pandemic or epidemic.
*With information from Lucas Rocha, from CNN
Source: CNN Brasil