Navigation Links
As Andean glacier retreats, tiny life forms swiftly move in, CU-Boulder study shows
Date:9/8/2008

A University of Colorado at Boulder team working at 16,400 feet in the Peruvian Andes has discovered how barren soils uncovered by retreating glacier ice can swiftly establish a thriving community of microbes, setting the table for lichens, mosses and alpine plants.

The discovery is the first to reveal how microbial life becomes established and flourishes in one of the most extreme environments on Earth and has implications for how life may have once flourished on Mars, said Professor Steve Schmidt of CU-Boulder's ecology and evolutionary biology department. The study also provides new insights into how microorganisms are adapting to global warming in cold ecosystems on Earth.

A paper on the subject was published online Aug. 27 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the United Kingdom's national academy of science. Co-authors included CU-Boulder's Sasha Reed, Diana Nemergut, Stuart Grandy, Andrew Hill, Elizabeth Costello, Allen Meyer, Jason Neff and Andrew Martin as well as the University of Montana's Cory Cleveland and the University of Toledo's Michael Weintraub.

The researchers found that three species of a photosynthetic microbe known as cyanobacteria colonized the soil within the first year, either by dropping in from tiny pockets of dirt wedged in the receding glacier or blowing in as spores. Just three years later there were 20 different species of bacteria, growing by snatching gaseous forms of carbon and nitrogen from the atmosphere, Schmidt said.

"The most startling finding was how much the diversity increased in just four years in what was seemingly barren soil," said Schmidt, whose study was funded by the National Science Foundation's Microbial Observatories Program. The CU-Boulder team conducted their research from 2000 to 2005 on the Puca Glacier in Peru -- which is receding uphill about 60 feet a year -- by collecting samples and measuring soil chemistry and strength.

In 2005, Schmidt's group was awarded a five-year, $1.75 million NSF grant to identify and analyze a potpourri of microbes new to science residing in harsh, cold climates around the world. The team is using a novel technique that extracts DNA from the soil to pinpoint new groups of microbes and polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, to amplify and identify them, providing a snapshot of the microscopic diversity in high alpine regions.

Another unexpected finding on the Puca Glacier was how microbes stabilized the soil and prevented erosion on the slope by using their filament-like structure to weave soil particles together in a matrix, Schmidt said. The CU-Boulder researchers also found the microbes excrete a glue-like sugar compound to further bond soil particles.

In addition, they discovered that nitrogen fixation rates -- the process in which nitrogen gas is converted by bacteria into compounds in the soil like ammonia and nitrate -- increased by about 100-fold in the first five years. "Overall, our results indicate that photosynthetic and nitrogen-fixing bacteria play important roles in acquiring nutrients and facilitating ecological succession in soils near some of the highest-elevation receding glaciers on Earth," wrote the team in Proceedings of the Royal Academy.

Global climate change has accelerated the pace of glacial retreat in high latitude and high-elevation environments, exposing lands that have been devoid of vegetation for centuries or millennia, said Schmidt. He likened the high Andes to the harsh Dry Valleys of Antarctica, under study by researchers from NASA's Astrobiology Institute because of hostile conditions believed to be similar to those on portions of Mars.

"This kind of research should help us understand how the cold regions of Earth function, and how the biosphere will respond to future climate change," said Schmidt. The research also could lead to the discovery of new antibiotics, as well as industrial enzymes that function at cold temperatures and could be used to drive chemical reactions normally requiring large amounts of heat, he said.

Because of rapid climate change at high elevations, time is of the essence for researchers at CU-Boulder and elsewhere working on tiny organisms in extreme environments. "We are racing to identify new species and archive them in the laboratory before bigger changes occur and they disappear," said Schmidt.


'/>"/>

Contact: Steve Schmidt
steve.schmidt@colorado.edu
303-492-6248
University of Colorado at Boulder
Source:Eurekalert  

Related biology news :

1. Montana State researchers study spread of lake trout in Glacier National Park
2. Penguins exposed to DDT from melting glaciers
3. Rutgers biologist to study worms in Amazon, glaciers
4. UNC nanotech spin-off forms new venture with Siemens
5. Emergence of recombinant forms of HIV: dynamics and scaling
6. Simple screening questionnaire for kidney disease outperforms current clinical practice guidelines
7. Hope among patients with ALS may take a variety of forms
8. New vaccine may give long-term defense against deadly bird flu and its variant forms
9. Federal polar bear research critically flawed, says study in INFORMS journal
10. Lab study shows methadone breaks resistance in untreatable forms of leukemia
11. CU-Boulder team discovers first ancient manioc fields in Americas
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
Related Image:
As Andean glacier retreats, tiny life forms swiftly move in, CU-Boulder study shows
(Date:3/28/2017)... , March 28, 2017 The ... Hardware (Camera, Monitors, Servers, Storage Devices), Software (Video Analytics, ... Region - Global Forecast to 2022", published by MarketsandMarkets, ... 2016 and is projected to reach USD 75.64 Billion ... and 2022. The base year considered for the study ...
(Date:3/24/2017)... 24, 2017 The Controller General of Immigration from ... Abdulla Algeen have received the prestigious international IAIR Award for the ... Continue Reading ... ... Controller Abdulla Algeen (small picture on the right) have received the IAIR ...
(Date:3/23/2017)... The report "Gesture Recognition and Touchless Sensing Market by Technology (Touch-based ... to 2022", published by MarketsandMarkets, the market is expected to be worth USD ... 2022. Continue Reading ... ... ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:10/11/2017)... and LAGUNA HILLS, Calif. , Oct. ... Cancer Research, London (ICR) and University ... SKY92, SkylineDx,s prognostic tool to risk-stratify patients with multiple myeloma ... MUK nine . The University of Leeds ... partly funded by Myeloma UK, and ICR will perform the ...
(Date:10/10/2017)... ... 2017 , ... San Diego-based team building and cooking events company, Lajollacooks4u, has ... The bold new look is part of a transformation to increase awareness, appeal to ... period. , It will also expand its service offering from its signature gourmet cooking ...
(Date:10/10/2017)... 10, 2017 International research firm Parks Associates announced ... at the TMA 2017 Annual Meeting , October 11 in ... residential home security market and how smart safety and security products impact ... Parks Associates: Smart Home ... "The residential security market has ...
(Date:10/9/2017)... DIEGO , Oct. 9, 2017  BioTech ... biological mechanism by which its ProCell stem cell ... critical limb ischemia.  The Company, demonstrated that treatment ... amount of limbs saved as compared to standard ... the molecule HGF resulted in reduction of therapeutic ...
Breaking Biology Technology: