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Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Microorganism capable of surviving radioactivity, extreme heat traced in Western Ghat water bodies

Tardigrades, which were found growing in northern Western Ghat regions -- including Kaas plateau and Amboli -- are extremely tiny organisms and can grow anywhere, from the highest of the mountain peaks to the deepest of the oceans, and in fresh or saline water bodies.

Written by Anjali Marar | Pune |
Updated: November 10, 2021 7:28:37 am
Tardigrada's size ranges between 0.1 mm-1.5 mm

Zoologists from Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU) have discovered one of the most resilient microorganisms growing in freshwater bodies along the Western Ghats, a century since it was first reported in Sikkim in the pre-independence era by British researchers.

Tardigrades, which were found growing in northern Western Ghat regions — including Kaas plateau and Amboli — are extremely tiny organisms and can grow anywhere, from the highest of the mountain peaks to the deepest of the oceans, and in fresh or saline water bodies. This makes them one of those organisms with a wide range of habitats, yet comparatively fewer discoveries have been made about them so far.

In the recently-published study, researchers Kalpana Pai and Kalyani Bhakare have described the habitat and abiotic factors under which the tardigrades were found along one of the world’s richest biodiversity hotspots, the Western Ghats. “The presence of tardigrada in a freshwater habitat has come nearly 100 years after it was first discovered in the Indian Himalayas. Due to climate change, a threat remains that many species and organisms could go extinct even before they are discovered,” said Kalpana Pai, professor at the department of Zoology, SPPU.

Usually, tardigrada’s size ranges between 0.1 mm and 1.5 mm and they have four pairs of legs. This organism prefers to thrive either on moss or lichens. What makes this organism unique is the fact that they are known to have survived radioactivity, starvation, dissection and similar harsh conditions including extreme heat, freezing temperatures, aridity, pressure and volcanoes. In a six-year-long effort, the duo collected 211 freshwater samples between 2012 and 2018 both from temporary and permanent freshwater bodies like pools, ponds and artificial tanks, located across Mahabaleshwar, Amboli, Visapur and Raireshwar forts, Kaas plateau, Kundamala and more. The dominant species were that of Dactylobiotus and Thulinius, with a majority of the organisms found growing in alkaline water.

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