Ancient Microbes Found Frozen In The Tibetan Plateau


Parish Watch
Staff member
Oct 29, 2002
East of Suez

A group of scientists discovered ancient viruses frozen in two ice samples taken from the Tibetan Plateau in China, and most of them are unlike anything ever seen before.

The findings, published Wednesday in the journal Microbiome, came from ice cores taken in 2015 that scientists said began to freeze at least 14,400 years ago.

“These glaciers were formed gradually, and along with dust and gases, many, many viruses were also deposited in that ice," Zhi-Ping Zhong, lead author and researcher at the Ohio State University Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center, said in a statement. "The glaciers in western China are not well-studied, and our goal is to use this information to reflect past environments. And viruses are a part of those environments."

When researchers analyzed the ice, they found genetic codes for 33 viruses. Of the 33, genetic codes for four of them showed they are part of virus families that typically infect bacteria. Up to 28 were novel, meaning they had never before been identified.

I've just been reading the 1999 FT account of the Tudor 'Sweating Sickness' plagues - no warning, dead in 24 hours, 50% mortality, no cure, no acquired immunity. Finally disappeared completely as mysteriously as it came. Affected middle aged wealthy higher class men predominantly. Still no one knows what it was, but it is hypothesized it may be trapped, viable, in the ice caps - and we all know what is happening to them. God help us - Covid is pathetic compared to it.
... A group of scientists discovered ancient viruses frozen in two ice samples taken from the Tibetan Plateau in China, and most of them are unlike anything ever seen before. ...

That's just the virus inventory ... Further research and genomic testing has identified over 900 other microbe species frozen in these Tibetan Plateau ice cores - most of which were completely new / unknown.
Never-before-seen microbes locked in glacier ice could spark a wave of new pandemics if released

Stunned scientists have uncovered more than 900 never-before-seen species of microbes living inside glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau. Analysis of the microbes' genomes revealed that some have the potential to spawn new pandemics, if rapid melting caused by climate change releases them from their icy prisons.

In a new study, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences took ice samples from 21 glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau — a high-altitude region in Asia wedged between the Himalayan mountain range to the south and the Taklamakan Desert to the north. The team then sequenced the DNA of the microscopic organisms locked inside the ice, creating a massive database of microbe genomes that they named the Tibetan Glacier Genome and Gene (TG2G) catalog. It is the first time that a microbial community hidden within a glacier has been genetically sequenced.

The team found 968 microbial species frozen within the ice — mostly bacteria but also algae, archaea and fungi, the researchers reported June 27 in the journal Nature Biotechnology (opens in new tab). But perhaps more surprisingly, around 98% of those species were completely new to science. ...

In January 2020, a team that analyzed ice cores from a single glacier uncovered 33 different groups of viruses living within the ice, 28 of which had never been seen before. ...

Evidence suggests that some of the newfound bacteria could be very dangerous to humans and other organisms. The team identified 27,000 potential virulence factors — molecules that help bacteria invade and colonize potential hosts — within the TG2G catalog. The researchers warned that around 47% of these virulence factors have never been seen before, and so there is no way of knowing how harmful the bacteria could be. ...

The Tibetan Plateau glaciers could be a hot spot for unleashing future pandemics because they feed fresh water into a number of waterways, including the Yangtze River, the Yellow River and the Ganges River, which supply two of the most populated countries in the world: China and India. ...
Here are the bibliographic details and abstract for the published research report.

Liu, Y., Ji, M., Yu, T. et al.
A genome and gene catalog of glacier microbiomes.
Nat Biotechnol (2022).

Glaciers represent a unique inventory of microbial genetic diversity and a record of evolution. The Tibetan Plateau contains the largest area of low-latitude glaciers and is particularly vulnerable to global warming. By sequencing 85 metagenomes and 883 cultured isolates from 21 Tibetan glaciers covering snow, ice and cryoconite habitats, we present a specialized glacier microbial genome and gene catalog to archive glacial genomic and functional diversity. This comprehensive Tibetan Glacier Genome and Gene (TG2G) catalog includes 883 genomes and 2,358 metagenome-assembled genomes, which represent 968 candidate species spanning 30 phyla. The catalog also contains over 25 million non-redundant protein-encoding genes, the utility of which is demonstrated by the exploration of secondary metabolite biosynthetic potentials, virulence factor identification and global glacier metagenome comparison. The TG2G catalog is a valuable resource that enables enhanced understanding of the structure and functions of Tibetan glacial microbiomes.