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Arctic's Microbes being studied for new discoveries
Microbes from the Arctic could serve as workhorses of biotechnology to catalyse reactions at low temperature.
After finding 25 bacterial species in the Antarctica, a scientist here has begun studying the microbial diversity in the Arctic region for discovering new genes, bio-molecules and enzymes with potential applications for pharmaceutical and detergent industries.
S.Shivaji, Director-grade scientist, Centre for Cellular and molecular Biology (CCMB), who collected soil, water and sediment samples from the numerous glaciers and the Arctic ocean to prospect the microbial diversity, told the The Hindu here on Wednesday that the microbes from the Arctic could serve as workhorses of biotechnology to catalyse reaction at low temperature. He was part of the five-member first Indian Scientific Expedition to Arctic that returned recently after a trip to the North Pole.
He would look into whether the microbes living in the pristine glaciers of the Arctic are similar to those on the icy continent of Antarctica or unique to their environment. He would also study how they thrive in sub-freezing temperatures when organisms living in tropical conditions cannot survive below 8 degrees C.
Genes identified:Many of the discovered species in the Antarctica were named in honour of that continent, India and the two Indian permanent stations, Dakshin Gagotri and maitri located there. Using these organisms, he identified genes required for survival of mico-organisms at sub-zero temperatures and enzymes of biotechnological potential.
Describing the expedition's experience, he said: "The pristine cold environment embraced us with its purity, cleanliness, glaciers and the colorful ocean. It was literally a top-of-the-world feeling. I was so exited that I wanted to work from the very day of arrival and then realized that during this period, the Arctic was one long day without any night since the sun does not set in the Arctic between May and August. I could sample the numerous glaciers dotting the Ny-Alesund, where we set up our camp".
Explaining the uniqueness of sampling the glaciers in the North Pole, he said there was no anthropogenic influence there, unlike anywhere else in the world. Another striking feature of the Arctic, unlike Antarctica, was that 6-7 percent of the land area was covered with vegetation, including a number of beautiful flowers. These life forms could serve as excellent model systems to unravel the biological basis of adaptation to low temperature and reveal the various strategies adapted by them to survive and reproduce.

SOURCE: The Hindu Newspaper Dated: Thursday, August 30, 2007.
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