The melting ice will release as many prehistoric microbes every year as there are stars in the universe

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The melting ice will release as many prehistoric microbes every year as there are stars in the universe

He melting of the poles released as a result of climate change Every year there are as many microbes in the environment as there are stars in the universe. It is estimated that four sextillion (4,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) small prehistoric microorganisms trapped in these areas are released each year as the coldest regions such as the Arctic or Antarctica thaw.

After that estimate, a group of researchers wanted to know What is the risk that one of them, especially pathogens, will cause significant damage? in modern ecosystems. The study, published in PLOS Computational Biology, In order to determine the risk of the pathogens being released, several simulations were carried out.

In 1% of the simulations where a single inactive pathogen was released, there was sufficient potential to cause significant environmental damage and even cause one high mortality among the organisms it wanted to host.

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To conduct this study, software called Avida was used to run experiments simulating the release of an ancient type of pathogen into today’s world, explained Corey Bradshaw, an ecologist at the ARC Center of Excellence for Biodiversity and Heritage Australia. (CABAH) and principal investigator of this article, published in The conversation.

After completing this work, the researchers “measured the impact of the invading pathogen on the diversity of bacteria currently acting as a reservoir and compared it to simulations in which there was no invasion,” explains Bradshaw. The pathogens that reached modern ecosystems survived and thrived with ease on this “new” planet.

Losses up to 30%

In 3% of the cases it became dominant in the environment. In this context, as Bradshaw points out, it is “very likely that it will lead to biodiversity loss”. in those organisms that it can infect. In the worst case, the researchers saw that the introduction of pathogenic microorganisms into the existing biodiversity “reduced host community by up to 30%”.

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“It may seem like a small risk,” argues the researcher, but as he warns, “it must be taken into account that these results only reveal the entry of a pathogen into these environments.” world to be released Such outbreaks pose a significant risk he explains.

Until now, the threat of an ancient pathogen reviving after thousands of years in the ice seemed anything but plausible. “It was limited to being a sci-fi threat,” he points out.

And while the odds of a pathogen reborn in the ice and causing a catastrophic extinction are slim, “Our results show that this is no longer a fantasy.

While the research team wasn’t able to calculate the risk it would pose to humans, scientists believe it’s a simple fact That a pathogen “can travel through time, establish itself in a host community, and degrade” is already worrying..

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“As a society, we must understand the potential risks in order to prepare for them,” emphasizes the researcher, who recalls that SARS-CoV-2, Ebola or HIV are “probable”. They were transmitted to humans from animals.

“It is plausible that a virus that once stuck to ice could enter the human population via a zoonotic route,” he points out.

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