CCMB researchers discovered the bacteria over the past decade from diverse habitats

Indibacter Alkaliphilus, Pedobacter Himalayensis, Bacillus Aryabhattai, Sphingobacterium Antarcticus — don't get intimidated by the high-sounding scientific names. If you notice closely, many of them are associated with India.

Named in honour of the country, the imposing Himalayas, Aryabhatta and the icy continent of Antarctica, these are among the 70 bacteria discovered from diverse habitats ranging from the cold regions of Antarctica, Arctic, stratosphere and ancient Lonar lake (in Maharashtra) that was formed when a meteorite hit the earth millions of years ago and the deep sea.

Led by Dr. S. Shivaji, Director-grade scientist from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), the researchers have discovered these bacteria over the past decade, including five this year.

The majority of the microbes, however, were from the cold habitats and are considered unique because of their ability to survive at temperatures below the freezing point of water.

Excellent model systems

With their ability to survive, grow and divide in freezing climes, these psychrophilic or cold-loving bacteria serve as excellent model systems to understand molecular basis for cold adaptation.

They could be used to generate as enzymes or bio-molecules with application in biotech industry, medicine and agriculture. For instance, in the pharma industry such enzymes could help in cost-cutting, and in agriculture, the low-temperature growing bacteria, when added to soil, have shown improved yields of plants growing in cold regions.

Dr. Shivaji told The Hindu here on Saturday that through genomic studies, scientists at CCMB have identified two genes unique to these cold-loving bacteria.

The genes involved in protein synthesis and amino acid metabolism were found to be essential for the survival of the micro-organisms at temperatures below 10 degree Centigrade.

However, the absence of the genes had no impact on their survival at temperatures above 10 degree.C.

Cold-loving bacteria

Bacillus Isronensis, one of the seven bacteria isolated from stratosphere (10-50 km altitude) was named in honour of ISRO, which funded that part of the project, while another microbe from a Himalayan glacier was named after CCMB (Bacillus Cecembensis).

Another microbe from Antarctica was christened as Arthrobacter Gangotriensis in memory of Dakshin Gangotri, the first Indian research station set up on the icy continent.

This for Bhargava

One of the microbes found in Indian Ocean was named in honour of the founder-director of CCMB, P.M. Bhargava (Bhargavaea Cecembensis).

Dr. Shivaji said the bacteria, which were isolated from stratosphere, were found to be highly resistant to ultra-violet rays when compared to normal bacteria.

Their their membrane structure, too, was quite different from the terrestrial microbes.

Such studies on microbes from extreme habitats would eventually become a bio-resource for the country to generate enzymes and bio-molecules.