The microbes have arrived at the top of the world. At the South Col, the last base camp from which to undertake the ascent to Mount Everest’s 8,848 meters, super-resistant bacteria have been found, ie able to survive the extreme cold and very high altitudes. This was revealed by a study conducted by the American University of Colorado in Boulder and published in the journal “Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research”, which highlighted how these microbial communities, probably left behind by mountaineers on the ascent, but also arrived so high in soil particles carried by the windcan lie dormant in the ground for decades, if not centuries.
Thanks to the use of new generation techniques, researchers have been led by Nicholas Dragon managed to perform genetic sequencing on soil samples taken near Camp IV – where the temperature normally reaches -33° and the altitude is 7,906 meters – and discovered a diversified mix of bacteria, protists and fungi, « including a combination of cosmopolitan taxa and specialized microorganisms often found at high altitudes, such as the genera Modestobacter and Naganishia,” the authors explained. In the samples analyzed, also found microbes associated with humans, such as staphylococcus and streptococcus, which usually “live” on the skin, in the nose and in the oral cavity.
Despite the results obtained, however, according to the researchers, there is no cause for concern. “Most of the organisms found on the South Col in this study it is rarely, if ever, able to replicate itself. It is likely that the organisms we isolated and cultured only came out of dormancy because of the less extreme conditions in the laboratory environment,” the researchers say. In other words, if the climbers get sick, it’s from the transfer of germs between them and not from the dormant microbes in Camp IV.
However, what may be more alarming is that microorganisms associated with humans, which have evolved to thrive in warm, moist environments such as the nose and mouth, are hardy enough to survive for long periods of time, even in regions with such extreme environmental conditions, which may have implications for the potential for life beyond Earth. “We could find life on other planets and we’ll have to be careful not to contaminate them,” the authors concluded, unsurprisingly.
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