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New Plant Species, 'Bryum Bharatiensis' Discovered by Indian Scientists

Polar Biologists from the Central University of Punjab have discovered a new species of plant in Antarctica, the icy continent.

Shivam Dwivedi
Bryum Bharatiensis
Bryum Bharatiensis (Pic Credit- BBC News)

Polar Biologists from the Central University of Punjab have discovered a new species of plant in Antarctica, the icy continent.

Congratulations to our Indian Scientists! This is the first time, India has discovered a plant species since the launch of its first research station in the continent 4 decades ago. India had setup first research station in 1984 and was abandoned in 1990 after that, it submerged under thick ice-cover. Two stations: Maitri & Bharati- were established in 1989 and 2012.

The new species was discovered by few polar biologists during India's 36th expedition to Antarctica in 2017. Identification is laborious as it took almost 5 years for the Indian scientists to identify and confirm the existence of this moss species discovered in Antarctica to establish that it is indeed a new species.

This discovery appeared in a peer-reviewed paper which has been acknowledged and accepted in the ‘Journal of Asia-Pacific Biodiversity'. 

About New Plant Species:

  • The scientists of Central University of Punjab have named this moss species 'Bryum Bharatiensis' as a tribute to goddess Saraswati, who is also known as 'Bharati', the Hindu goddess who also lends her name to one of India’s Antarctic research stations.

  • This plants needs nitrogen, along with potassium, phosphorus, sunlight and water to survive. Only 1% of Antarctica is ice free. "The big question was that how does moss survive in this landscape of rock and ice," Prof Felix Bast said.

  • Professor Felix Bast, one of the biologists who were a part of the 6-month-long expedition told BBC, "Basically, the plants here survive on penguin poop. It helps that the manure doesn’t decompose in this climate".

Environmental Concern:

What bothered the scientists was the "Alarming Evidence" of Climate Change that they saw during the expedition. They say they came across melting glaciers, crevasse-infested ice sheets and glacial melt-water lakes on top of ice-sheets.

Although, it is still unclear as to how the moss survives through Antarctica’s 6-month-long winters when there is no sunlight and drop in temperatures as low as -76 degree Celsius. They believed that there 's a reason to believe that the moss dries almost to seed, in a dormant stage, during the winters and starts to germinate again during summer time in September when it starts getting sunlight.

After the collection of samples, the Indian scientists spent 5 years more in sequencing the plant DNA and comparing its form with other plant species. Till now, more than 100 species of moss have been documented from Antarctica, the coldest, driest and windiest continent of planet.

"Antarctica is getting greenified. Many temperate species of plants that previously could not survive in this frozen continent are now seen everywhere because of the warming up of the continent", said Prof Bast.

"The finding that Antarctica was greenifying was disturbing," added Prof Raghavendra Prasad Tiwari, a leading biologist and the vice-chancellor of the Central University of Punjab. "We don't know what lies under the thick ice sheets. There could well be pathogenic microbes which could emerge when the ice melts due to global warming".

Source - BBC

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