Why It Matters | People are leaving behind more than plastic on Mt Everest

Evidence of microbes associated with humans found dormant near the Himalayan mountain.

Updated - April 04, 2023 11:23 am IST

Published - March 25, 2023 10:57 am IST

Evidence of microbes associated with humans found dormant near Mount Everest.

Evidence of microbes associated with humans found dormant near Mount Everest. | Photo Credit: Reuters

What are the facts?

  • Microbes associated with humans have shown up in soil samples collected near camps where mountaineers pitch tents before climbing the last leg of Mount Everest
  • Scientists from the University of Colorado have used advanced techniques such as next-generation gene-sequencing and more traditional method culturing methods on soil samples and found Staphylococcus (commonly found on skin and nose bacteria in humans) and Streptococcus (found in the mouth).
  • DNA sequences of some other microbes capable of surviving in harsh environmental conditions were found, including a fungus called Naganishia.

Also Read | Kodaikanal one of Asia’s mercury hotspots: Ameer Shahul

What is the context?

  • While microbes are very common and found in almost every type of environment on the earth, the scientists were surprised to find those that usually thrive in wet and humid environments like the human nose and mouth have managed to survive in cold and dry environments, albeit in a dormant state. 
  • The researchers have said that human-related microbes don’t show up as frequently as they have done so around Mt Everest around other similar mountain ranges on the planet.
  • A 2020 study found the presence of microplastic on Mount Everest. The small plastic particles were likely to be left behind by the clothing and equipment of mountaineers.

Why does it matter?

  • According to the scientists, the microbes won’t significantly affect the broader environment; instead, the notable finding is that these bacteria are so resilient.
  • Evidence of such microbiomes on the steps of the tallest mountain (above sea level) can help scientists understand the extent to which life can survive even in very harsh conditions. 
  • Studies like these also have implications for finding life on other planets and cold moons as well as for disinfecting environments such as orbital stations.

Also Read | Humans evolved with their microbiomes – like genes, your gut microbes pass from one generation to the next

Also Read | Viral nutrition: new study reveals microbes nourished by consuming viruses 

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