In the ice-clad mountains of Sikkim in the Northeast of India, some unique bacteria have been thriving in a glacier – not just surviving in the extreme temperatures but resisting harmful radiations and churning out industrially important enzymes. Researchers scouring the glacier of East Rathong in West Sikkim have now unlocked the genetic secrets behind the capability of these bacteria to adapt to such extreme cold1,2,3 – a property that will be of value for enzyme-driven industrial applications.
Scientists have been studying these glaciers in the remote mountains of Sikkim to track their volume change or retreat. But not much was known of their microbial population. Researchers from the CSIR-Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (CSIR-IHBT), Himachal Pradesh, teamed up with peers from the Sikkim State Council of Science and Technology to sequence the complete genomes of some bacteria collected from the glaciers – two species of the genus Arthrobacter genus and one of Microterricola.
At high altitudes, the bacteria are constantly exposed to harmful ultraviolet radiations. Such radiation-rich environment endows the bacteria with an anti-radiation chemical defense which could be exploited commercially to develop anticancer drugs, antioxidants and even radiation-blocking sunscreens. The researchers are now planning to assess the microbial populations at different layers of ice core which will help us reconstruct past environmental changes and related human activities.
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