Antarctic Microbes Could Help Unlock Climate Mysteries

Argentine-Chilean microbiologist Julieta Orlando studies the past, present and future of Antarctic and sub-Antarctic biodiversity, including the microorganisms that could help us understand the impact of climate change on these ecosystems.

Orlandoassociate professor at the Universidad de Chile and deputy director of the Millennium Institute BASE (Biodiversity of Antarctic and Subantarctic Ecosystems), says that learning about the distribution patterns of microorganisms, their interactions with other living things, their metabolic activities and how all these characteristics are influenced by environmental changes are influenced is essential for an overall understanding of how ecosystems function.

“For example, microorganisms could help amplify or mitigate climate change because of their role in the emission and consumption of powerful greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide and methane,” Orlando says, adding that including microorganisms as part of biodiversity studies is nevertheless not that common how it should be.

“Contributing to a unified view of biodiversity research, regardless of the size of individuals, will allow us to make more robust conservation proposals to meet current and future change scenarios,” she says.

Inspired by Dolly the Sheep

Orlando grew up in Argentina but has lived almost half her life in Chile and is a dual citizen of both countries.

She says that towards the end of her high school education, the birth of the first mammal cloned from an adult cell, Dolly the Sheep, was breaking news around the world.

“Science has always caught my attention, and this historic event prompted me to study something related to genetics at university,” says Orlando, “however, the city where I lived at the time didn’t have a genetics major .”

She would study microbiology near where she lived and hoped to later focus on genetics.

“My education at the Universidad Nacional de Río Cuarto in Argentina opened up an unfamiliar world to me around these tiny creatures, and I was immediately fascinated by this often unknown part of biodiversity,” she says, “since I had the opportunity to be in a Working with microorganisms in the lab, I knew microbiology research was what I wanted to do.”

She then crossed the Andes to do her doctorate at the Universidad de Chile thanks to a Germany scholarship (DAAD).

Orlando says that in a context shaped by climate change, the development of Antarctic and sub-Antarctic science is critical, and scientists from the Global South have a critical role to play.

“Being scientists from the Global South gives us many advantages, such as logistical facilities due to closer access to study sites, which are fundamental to understanding global change,” she says, “but it also gives us unique ones Perspectives based on knowledge of the local peculiarities that are only attainable by living in the southernmost areas of our planet.”

Another Antarctic explorer from the Global South is Colombian geoscientist Adriana Ariza-Pardo, who is studying the origins of a submerged, active volcano that also serves as a port for explorers visiting Antarctica.

MORE FROM FORBESUnravel the mysteries of an Antarctic volcano

“My goal is to understand the beginnings of the volcano, from the type of crust from which it emerges, the tectonic plates involved in its formation process, and to determine its age by studying the oldest eruptions of the volcano” , says Ariza-Pardo.

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