Don’t forget your handkerchief when you go mountain climbing, because microbes from coughs and sneezes can be preserved in ice for centuries, a study has found.
Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder analyzed soil samples from Mount Everest and found microbial DNA associated with humans.
The bacteria to which these belonged include staphylococciassociated with food poisoning and pneumonia, and streptococciwhich causes a sore throat.
Most of the microbes found were thought to be dormant, but were preserved in “frozen collection zones” near areas of human activity.
This finding supports the idea that extraterrestrial life might exist on other frozen planets, the scientists say.
Microbes from the coughs and sneezes of mountaineers can persist in the Arctic for centuries, a study has found. Pictured: View of the South Summit from South Col Camp
Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder analyzed soil samples from Mount Everest’s South Col and found microbial DNA associated with humans. Image: The surface of the soil collection point
dr Steve Schmidt, senior author of the new paper, said: “We could find life on other planets and cold moons.
Everest’s South Col
The South Col is the rocky gap between Everest and its sister peak Lhotse, marking the border between Nepal and Tibet.
Located on the southeast ridge of the mountain at about 7,900m, it is the last place climbers pause before attempting to reach the summit.
Last year it was revealed that South Col Glacier – the tallest on Everest – is losing decades’ worth of ice every year thanks to global warming.
It’s extremely exposed, meaning warming air temperatures were the main cause of the melting, but strong winds also play a role.
“We have to be careful not to contaminate them with our own.”
In the past, researchers have examined the soil in the coldest regions of the world, but have rarely discovered significant amounts of human-associated microbes.
In fact, they were never able to positively identify these microbes in samples collected over 7.9 km (26,000 feet).
But for the new study, published in Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, the US-based team analyzed the soil using cutting-edge gene sequencing technology.
Their samples were collected from Everest’s South Col during the 2019 National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition.
This was the most comprehensive scientific expedition to Mount Everest in history and included the installation of the world’s two tallest weather stations.
The South Col is the rocky gap between Everest and Lhotse Peak and is the last stop for climbers before beginning their journey up the world’s tallest mountain.
Expedition researchers traveled as far away from the camp as possible to collect soil samples before analyzing them in the lab.
The scientists were able to identify almost all active and dormant microbes present in the sample based on their DNA and determine their genetic diversity.
They expected to find some of them since they were discovered in other extreme, high altitude locations.
These are particularly hardy microbes as they thrive in low temperatures, high UV exposure and low water availability.
Soil samples were collected at the South Col during the 2019 Everest Expedition by National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet. Pictured: Map showing the sampling location along the Everest Climbing Route
The scientists were able to identify almost all active and dormant microbes present in the sample based on their DNA and determine their genetic diversity. In the picture: place of sampling
One of them, Naganishiawas by far the most common in the South Col specimens.
However, they also found unprecedented amounts of human-associated microbes left over from the sneezes and coughs of mountaineers.
“Even at this altitude, a human signature is frozen in the Everest microbiome,” said Dr. Schmidt.
Their existence was not surprising considering how many adventurers pass through the South Col and how easily germs are blown around.
However, their diversity suggested that the microbes were probably dormant and had not been killed by the harsh conditions in the Himalayas.
That came as a shock, because these microbes have evolved to survive in the warm, humid environment of our noses and mouths.
The researchers say these may have been left behind by explorers decades or centuries ago, suggesting the impact of human activity on the mountain is more resilient than previously thought.
The authors wrote, “Our data suggest that the South Col and other extremely high-elevation environments may be freeze-storage sites for deposited organisms, including human-borne contaminants, that once arrived may never be left.”
Nepal plans to move Everest base camp due to global warming
Nepal plans to move a base camp at the foot of Everest further downhill as global warming and human activities make the current camp unstable.
Experts say the Khumbu Glacier, a 10-mile “ice river” on which the campground sits, is rapidly melting and thinning, making it unsafe for visitors.
The thinning of the glacier is due to melting ice, partly due to footsteps, kerosene stoves and urine – at base camp people urinate around 4,000 liters a day.
The camp is currently at an elevation of 17,600 feet (5,364 meters), but the new one will be between 650 and 1,310 feet (200 meters to 400 meters) lower.
Read more here
Nepal plans to move a base camp at the foot of Everest further downhill as global warming and human activities make the current camp unstable. The thinning of the Khumbu Glacier is due to melting ice partly due to footsteps and human urine
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-11862167/Mount-Everest-preserving-climbers-coughs-sneezes-CENTURIES-study-finds.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 Study results show that Mount Everest has preserved the coughs and sneezes of climbers for CENTURIES