The Power of the Unseen- the Snow Makers

Haven’t we all thought, how great it would be to “refreeze” the polar ice? Get the penguins their home back? But again we’re just minuscule in comparison to the 68.7%  of the world’s entire water content, right? That’s it! “Minuscule” is the word we had missed all this while. In this blog, we’re going to imagine what a microscopic organism might be capable of.

Ice crystals freezing around tree leaves (Source: Live Sicence)

The Guest of honour P. syringae

Pseudomonas syringae is a bacteria with an average size of 1.25um which is capable of infecting plants by making ice nuclei. This potent plant pathogen has a major impact on the world’s ecosystem. This crusader excels in bioprecipitation and ice nucleation. In a nutshell, they can make both rain and ice, even at a warm temperature.

It all started when Paul Hoppe, in 1961 started studying corn crops: these notorious gram-negative proteobacteria froze the crops at negative 2 to 4 degree Celcius, thus doing the job that was a strict accolade of the “refrigerator”. Since then its impact on the biogeochemical cycle has been widely studied and explored.

Ice crystals on tree leaves (American Society for Microbiology)

Let’s dig into its modus operandi

InaZ is an outer membrane protein that is the key to its snow forming capacity. It converts water vapour into ice crystals at very low temperature. This particular protein has been proved to be much more effective in ice nucleation in comparison to ash, dust, soot & other ice nucleation minerals.

Read more about the probable mechanism of ice nucleation by ice-nucleating proteins here.

Envisage the White Gold

So, let’s think about a scenario where this troublesome creature is actually utilized to abate a global biodiversity crisis by making actual ice, that can restore the polar caps. Well, there has been quite some researches conducted over the past few decades. Extensive research led by David Sands with Bent Christener, researchers and professors at Montana State University tried to answer the question do bacteria help form clouds? & thereby, snowfall? They found that over “Of the 19 fresh snowfalls they analyzed, they found that the bad boys were everywhere. The samples they collected came from seasons and locations devoid of deciduous plants indicating that the ice nucleators travelled long distances and maintained their activity in the atmosphere”.[1]

So, the next time you make a snowman or knock your friends out with a snowball, you can definitely thank these precious microbes for making it for you.

Ice gun (Science News)

Although, snowguns have already started firing artificial snow with the aid of P. syringae ‘s Ina protein, yet a successful attempt restoring the Penguin homelands is yet to be conquered. An almost oblivious challenge remains, as to how to keep the bacteriae viable and modulate its pathogenesis, in a subzero temperature or utilize its genes to manipulate other microbes for the same job. In this era of biotechnology and bioengineering, we’re sure to strike success in the near future. Till then this blog urges you to envisage the power a microscopic organism can pertain to & not give up hope on the impossible.

By,

Susweta Roy (M.Sc. in Microbiology, Post Graduate Student, Department of Microbiology, University of Calcutta

See also:

References:

  1. https://www.asm.org/Articles/2019/January/Snow-Is-Coming-Whats-That-Have-to-Do-with-Microbe
  2. R.M. Skirvina,*, E. Kohlerb et al .The use of genetically engineered bacteria to control frost on strawberries and potatoes. Whatever happened to all of that research? (2000)

About the author:

I’m a Microbiology Grad student at the University of Calcutta, In the quest of exploring the question “why”, under a microscope, telescope and a pair of spectacles. Other than that, I’ve got a voracious appetite for books & food alike and like using paintbrushes, music and travelling, as an escape.

This is my first blog with The Qrius Rhino and I hope to continue the journey of being “Qrius” with them, in future.

2 thoughts on “The Power of the Unseen- the Snow Makers

  1. Joydeep Ghosal says:

    Great concept. Keep it going. Will be waiting for more♥️

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.