Chinese scientists have discovered nearly 1,000 microbes, bacteria and viruses trapped in the glaciers of the Tibetan plateau. With global warming, these microorganisms are released and threaten surrounding populations.

According to the IPCC, melting ice is one of the biggest threats to the planet. In Tibet, which has nearly 46,000 glaciers, the heat gradually releases bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms, as well as carbon and methane.

Thus, a team of Chinese scientists discovered 968 different species of microbes living in extreme conditions: freezing temperatures, high levels of solar radiation, almost no food sources. According to Futura Science, they have the ability to freeze and thaw based on temperatures. Chinese scientists are currently carrying out a research project, titled “Catalog of Tibetan Glacier Genomes and Genes” (TG2G), which will be integrated with the discovery of new organisms as research progresses.

Threats to water sources

The Tibetan Plateau is an important source of water supply for nearby Asian cities. This plateau, also called “the water tower of Asia”, is warming three times faster than the global average. Indeed, climate change has already caused 80% of the plateau’s glaciers to shrink. According to the World Meteorological Organization, “Most of the Tibetan Plateau experienced a decrease in snow days between 1980 and 2016, with an average decrease of less than 2 days per year over nearly half of the region., and more than 4 days a year in certain areas. ”The dispersion of these greenhouse gases into the atmosphere will again aggravate warming, as well as the release of microorganisms that will flow into Tibetan lands and waters.

15,000-year-old virus

Scientists believe it is necessary to catalog the microbes of these glaciers to assess their consequences. 3,241 genomes of 21 glaciers have already been counted between 2016 and 2020 and they have shown that 82% of the genomes are new species, 11% of these species were found on the same glacier and 10% were found on all glaciers studied.

In 2021, another study by Chinese scientists identified 33 viruses (including 28 unknown) trapped on the Guliya ice shelf in Tibet. The age of some of these discovered viruses has been estimated to be more than 15,000 years.

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