Scientists studying glacier ice in the Tibetan Plateau have discovered viruses from around 15,000 years ago. The Tibetan glacier viruses survived under layers of frozen ice and most of them are unique and have never been sorted and classified.
Published on July 20, 2021, in Microbiome, a journal, the findings will help scientists have a better understanding of the evolution of viruses across ages. The method to isolate and collect the Tibetan glacier viruses is also new as scientists have come up with a novel, ultra-clean process that can analyze viruses and microbes trapped in glaciers without the fear of contaminating them with the present atmosphere.
Each layer of glacier denotes a particular age and they gradually formed layer by layer over centuries. The findings help uncover dust, gases, and the viruses that thrived in that age.
Zhi-Ping Zhong, the lead author who led the study said that the Western China glaciers are yet to be studied. The Ohio State University researcher said that the information gleaned from this research will help us have a clearer picture of environments in the past. And viruses definitely are a vital part of the system.
Tibetan Glacier Viruses Are Preserved In Definite Timelines
The samples collected at the Guliya ice cap date back to 2015. The ice originated at extreme altitudes of over 22,000 feet. Each layer of ice formed in the glacier has become a frozen timeline. The scientists were able to determine the age of the layer of ice studied as being around 15,000 years old. The researcher found 33 Tibetan glacier viruses of which only 4 were known to them. And 28 of the Tibetan glacier viruses are new to scientists. And the ice seems to have preserved the viruses instead of destroying them.
The co-author of the paper, Matthew Sullivan, the professor of microbiology in Ohio said that the Tibetan glacier viruses are novel in that they managed to contaminate and thrive even in the extreme cold of the Himalayas. He said that professor Zhi-Ping’s methods could pave the way for looking for similar genetic sequences in similar frozen areas in the moon, Marxism, and closer home in the Atacama desert.
The Tibetan glacier viruses originated from plant life and researchers feel that their findings will help in the study of microbes and viruses that manage to survive despite being buried for long in extremely cold conditions. We can also learn about their responses to periods alternating between ice ages and warmer periods.