Could Melting Glaciers Be Releasing Toxic Bacteria?

Although the author of this article says this dormant bacteria is “not as scary as it might seem,” my sci-fi indoctrinated mind detects all sorts of disastrous outcomes awaiting if some of this bacteria trapped in the ice before humanity existed turns out to be deadly. Between Monsanto’s genetically-modified seeds and possible lethal microbes from Anarctica, not to mention the rise in sea levels from the melting ice itself, I don’t know how the human race will survive its own stupidity but, then, we have avoided destroying ourselves with nuclear weapons for 60-odd years, so we may have a chance. Here’s an excerpt from “10 Amazing Discoveries You Missed This Week,” by Liz Langley at AlterNet:

3. What’s Under Those Sheets?

A news story that directly references Jurassic Park, The Empire Strikes Back, The Andromeda Strain and Contagion? We’re there!

And if it sounds scary, don’t panic: Just read Scientific American’s beautifully written “Melting Glaciers Liberate Ancient Microbes” by Cheryl Katz and the Daily Climate (an extended version of Bugs in the Ice Sheet, SA’s May 2012 issue). Now that the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland are melting, “tiny organisms that may have been trapped there longer than modern humans have walked the planet, biding their time until conditions change and set them free again,” will become, well, free again.

It’s a breathtaking prospect…and not as scary as it might seem. Though we are talking about bacteria that is still able to “grow and divide” after ages under ice, “Bugs in the Ice Sheet” soothingly says up front “most of what has been identified appears related to common soil and marine bacteria.” Some more highlights from “Melting Glaciers”:

— There’s evidence that these tiny “microbes are evolving inside the ice sheets exchanging DNA and gaining new traits.”
— That pathogens whose host populations had become immune could survive in the ice waiting for a population that hasn’t been exposed to them (again, not likely but interesting…read the whole story)
— Thawing ice sheets that “will allow ancient microbial genes to mix with modern ones, flooding the oceans with never-before-seen types of organisms.”

So there’s lots of news to look forward to under the ice.

Read the other 9 here.

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