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Bacteria recovered from a high-altitude, tropical glacier in Venezuelan Andes

Abstract

Glacial-ice microorganisms are intensively studied world-wide for a number of reasons, including their psychrophilic lifestyle, their usefulness in biotechnology procedures and their relationship with the search of life outside our planet. However, because of the difficulties for accessing and working at altitudes of >5.000 m above sea level, tropical glaciers have received much less attention than their arctic and antarctic counterparts. In the present work we isolated and characterized a total of forty-five pure isolates originating from direct plating of melted ice collected at the base of a rapidly-retreating, small glacier located at around 4.900 m.a.s.l. in Mount Humboldt (Sierra Nevada National Park, Mérida State, Venezuela). Initial examination of melted ice showed the presence of abundant- (>106 cells ml−1), morphologically diverse- and active bacterial cells, many of which were very small (“dwarf cells”). The majority of the isolates were psychrophilic or psychrotolerant and many produced and excreted cold-active extracellular enzymes (proteases and amylases). The antibiotic tests showed an elevated percentage of isolates resistant to high doses (100 μg/ml) of different antibiotics including ampicillin, penicillin, nalidixic acid, streptomycin, chloramphenicol, kanamycin and tetracycline. Multiresistance was also observed, with 22.22 % of the strains simultaneously resistant up to five of the antibiotics tested. Metal resistance against Ni++, Zn++ and Cu++ was also detected. In accordance with these results, plasmids of low and high molecular weight were detected in 47 % of the isolates. Twenty-two partial 16S rDNA sequences analyzed allowed grouping the isolates within five different phyla/classes: Alpha-, Beta- and Gamma-proteobacteria, Actinobacteria and Flavobacteria. This is the first report concerning South American Andean glacial ice microorganisms.

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Acknowledgments

The authors are grateful to Mr. Jorge Férnandez B. and Dr. Andrés Eloy Mora (from the LAQEM Lab ULA, Mérida) for their technical assistance in Electronic Microscopy imaging. This work was partially financed by Fondo Nacional de Ciencias, Tecnología e Innovación (FONACIT) Project No. 2011001187.

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Correspondence to Luis Andrés Yarzábal.

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Ball, M.M., Gómez, W., Magallanes, X. et al. Bacteria recovered from a high-altitude, tropical glacier in Venezuelan Andes. World J Microbiol Biotechnol 30, 931–941 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11274-013-1511-1

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Keywords

  • Bacteria
  • Psychrophiles
  • Tropical glaciers
  • Ice-bacteria
  • Glacier ice
  • Andes Mountains