Never-before-seen microbes locked in glacier ice could spark a wave of new pandemics if released

A new study found hundreds of newfound microbes in melting glaciers, some of which could potentially be pathogenic. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

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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.

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