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Researchers discover a new bacterial species from Sikkim’s hot spring

The mountainous state of Sikkim and its famous Yumthang hot spring now has another distinction—the abode of Geobacillus yumthangensis, a new species of bacteria. In a recent study, researchers from the Sikkim University, Gangtok, and the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, have isolated a new species of bacteria from the waters of the hot spring. The details of the study were published in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.

Microorganisms, like bacteria, might be tiny but are capable of surviving in extremely inhospitable environments. Although prior studies have reported many bacterial species that live in the hot springs around the world, scientists are curious to explore many more that survive such high temperatures. These explorations can help us discover various enzymes that tolerate heat and can be used in multiple industrial applications.

The researchers of the present study collected water from the hot spring and isolated the bacterium present in it using a solid nutrient medium in the laboratory. They labelled the rod-shaped, aerobic bacterium as ‘strain AYN2T’ and conducted various taxonomic studies to identify and classify it. They found that it was a ‘gram-positive bacteria’, which gave a positive stain when subject to the Gram stain test used to identify bacteria. The bacteria were able to survive in temperatures between 40-70 °C and a pH range of 6 to 10.

The study also looked at the genes of the bacteria to classify it further. The 16S rRNA gene present in bacteria is widely used to study their evolutionary relationship with other bacteria. Molecular analyses of the 16S rRNA gene from this newly isolated strain indicated its similarity with the bacteria belonging to the genus Geobacillus.

“In the analysis of the 16S rRNA gene sequences, strain AYN2T showed highest sequence similarity (96 %) to the type strain of Geobacillus toebii”, report the authors.

Many bacteria belonging to the genus Geobacillus can be found in various harsh environments like high-temperature oilfield, marine vents, and corroded pipeline in an extremely deep well. As many as ten validated species of this genus are already known. However, from their morphological and molecular observations, the researchers reached a consensus that the newly isolated strain is actually a new species under the genus Geobacillus. “The phenotypic properties of strain AYN2T were clearly distinct from those of G. toebii and related species”, say the researchers, justifying its classification as a novel species. They have now proposed the name Geobacillus yumthangensis sp. nov. for the new species.

The study is a step towards understanding the physiology of heat-resistant bacteria and exploring their potential use, which can serve a spectrum of industrial applications.

“Their thermostable characteristics make members of Geobacillus attractive to the biotechnology industry as sources of thermostable enzymes, as a platform for biofuel production and as an attractive constituent of bioremediation strategies”, conclude the authors.