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A hunt for microbes in Lonar Lake

Lonar Lake in Buldhana district of Maharashtra is believed to be the den of a mythical giant demon,slayed by Lord Vishnu.

Written by NitinPatil |
April 11, 2010 12:40:27 am

Lonar Lake in Buldhana district of Maharashtra is believed to be the den of a mythical giant demon,slayed by Lord Vishnu. But it is the tiny microorganisms that dwell in its waters that are the subject of a study by Pune-based Maharashtra Association for the Cultivation of Science-Agharkar Research Institute (MACS-ARI).

The lake dates back to the Pleistonic era and was formed by the hypervelocity impact of either a comet or a meteorite. Though there are such lakes created by meteorite impact in other parts of the world,Lonar is perhaps the only one that has basalt rocks at the base and in the surroundings. Prompted by its unique formation and salinity,a scientist from the Microbiology Department of the MACS-ARI embarked upon a research project about ten years ago to look for microorganisms that live in the alkaline waters of the lake. Now,after identifying the microbes and studying their characterics,ARI is looking at how they can be applied—in manufacturing biodegradable plastic,antibiotics and also producing enzymes for various industrial applications.

Director of ARI,Dr Pradnya Kanekar,said,“Lonar Lake is a unique ecosystem. Its salinity was reported to be 30 per cent in 1954. The lake water contains a high amount of sodium carbonate,and in fact,was used as a source of washing soda in the past,” Kanekar said. “From the year 2000,when ARI received funds to carry out a project on the lake,we have been collecting samples of its waters. In the last few years,we have managed to isolate the alkaliphilic (organisms that live and thrive in alkaline conditions) and halophilic (organisms that thrive in high salinity) bacteria by giving a nutrient media and then characterise them.” Kanekar said the lake may harbor many more bacteria that are not cultivable using conventional techniques.

It took the ARI team,comprising Kanekar,SS Sarnaik and SS Nilegaonkar,besides assisting researchers,five years to identify the microbial contents of the samples and the latter part of the current decade to focus on their applications. The research is supported by the Government of India. Besides biodegradable plastic,ARI is looking at other applications of the microbes,such as in developing special antibiotics and enzymes,used when extremely specific catalysts are required in manufacturing processes.

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