One of the members of the Microbiology Unit of the Department of Basic Medical Sciences of the URV, Doctor Alberto Miguel Stchigel, spent last December and January in Antarctica isolating and identifying microscopic fungi found in different types of materials. This fieldwork has resulted in the identification of two potential new species of the genus Chrysosporium and another of the genus Polypaecilum. These successes build on the successes of past years, which include the discovery of a new genus (Antarctomyces) and three new species of fungi found in Antarctic soil and lichens.
Samples were collected on King George Island (known in Argentina as Isla Veintecinco de Mayo) and also occasionally on Deception Island. The laboratory work was carried out at the Jubany Scientific Station. Fungi found in plants (two native varieties), lichens as well as in manure and feathers of indigenous animals (skuas and penguins) were analyzed. Samples from marine algae and Antarctic fresh water lakes were also processed, and numerous marine soil and sediment samples were collected for later examination.
The goals of the research range from conservation of biodiversity, to the study of models of possible extraterrestrial life forms, to potential applications in new biotech products.
Habitats all over the planet are rapidly changing as a result of climate change and the situation is no different in Antarctica. Such environmental changes may lead to the disappearance of many species of organisms, including fungi. In addition to documenting the diversity and evolutionary relationship of fungi with other organisms, the study aims to examine the possibility of preserving these microorganisms (the fungi), including those that risk extinction, and to thus contribute towards minimizing the loss of biodiversity that the planet is undergoing as a result of the global climate change phenomenon.
The study also aims to examine these organisms as models for possible forms of extraterrestrial life, due to their ability to adapt to extreme conditions common in other places in the solar system like Mars.
Another objective of the study is to search for organisms previously unknown to science which may lead to new products (secondary metabolites, enzymes, etc.) for the biotechnology industry.
The URV’s Antarctic campaign has been made possible by a decade-long collaboration with the Microbiology Unit of the Argentine Antarctic Institute, which provides the institutional and logistic support required to conduct research projects.
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