Time for some fieldwork! We visited the Panamik Hot Spring in the Nubra Valley. It’s full of exotic microbes – bacteria, archaebacteria and algae that are specially adapted to life in hot water. You can tell from the colorful films and mats coating the rocks. Metagenomics (DNA testing) will probably reveal microbial lineages that are billions of years old. We can correlate specific DNA sequences with environmental parameters like temperature, pH and dissolved minerals.
The Himalayas are brand new (still being formed) and this particular spring may be only a few thousand years old. So, how do hot-water-loving microbes that are billions of years old get here? Most of the scientists I am traveling with subscribe to the “Everything Is Everywhere” hypothesis. That means that spores and cells of every possible microbe are constantly blowing around the world in the wind. The environment selects. So, as soon as an earthquake creates a hot spring the spores and cells that were already there grow and reproduce. It’s a staggering thought, because it means that probably every time you wash your car you are washing off a little bit of all of the microbial diversity on the planet.
But if everything is everywhere, why travel halfway around the world to visit this particular hot spring? It has some unusual characteristics. Water normally boils at 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit) but here we are up so high that the air is so thin that water boils at only 85 degrees Celsius. So it’s a “cool” hot spring.