Climate Science: Saharan microorganisms identified on the Alps by CNR, FEM and UniFi
Invisible and unstoppable migrations from the African desert are airborne from the African desert to the Alps, due to climate change. These flows are very different from those we are used to from the chronicles, which involve Saharan microorganisms, recently identified in Dolomites snows.
This phenomenon was described in a study recently published in the Microbiome journal, conducted by a multidisciplinary team of researchers from Edmund Mach Foundation of San Michele all’Adige (FEM), Institute of Biometeorology of the National Research Council (IBIMET-CNR), and the universities of Florence, Venice and Innsbruck.
The researchers identified entire microbial bacterial and fungal communities from Saharan areas from the snow samples collected on Marmolada and Latemar mountains. These communities of microorganisms were transported to Europa by one of the largest Saharan winter dust event which reached the Alps in 2014. “The idea of studying an exceptional winter event”, said the researchers, “led to the discovery of almost entire communities of Saharan microbes, transported by the wind and frozen under in a layer of pick snow, isolated from the previous and following layers, being below zero”.
Deposited on the Dolomite Alps following the large “desert dust storm”, Saharan dusts were then sealed in fresh snow. The microbiota identified by researchers is rich in a number of organisms which are resistant and able to survive in different environments. The genetic characterization of Saharan microbes led to the discovery that some of them can survive also after snowmelt, probably because they are present in large amounts. This suggests that climate change and increased frequency of events of the kind studied by the researchers can change the microbial communities of our soils, transporting entire communities of microorganisms very far away.
The study was conducted under the leadership of Tobias Weil, FEM, Duccio Cavalieri, University of Florence, and Franco Miglietta, IBIMET-CNR, who have coordinated an interdisciplinary team of researchers including experts in geology, environment, meteorology, microbiology and bioinformatics of the research institutes involved in the project.
The study was carried out by using the sophisticated instruments available to the researchers, including those used in metagenomics and computational biology of Edmund Mach Foundation. “Since last-generation sequencing techniques gave men the opportunity to see microorganisms without cultivating them on plates, but directly identifying them from the DNA 'signature', scientists have deiscovered that bacteria and fungi are in all environments, including air, clouds, and wind”, concluded researchers.