Mar 15, 2023 - News

CU Boulder discovers "human signature" frozen on Mount Everest

The summit of Mount Everest. Photo: Sebastien Berger/AFP via Getty Images

If you were to cough or sneeze on one of the world's tallest peaks, there's a good chance your germs will linger there — for centuries, a recent study from CU Boulder shows.

Why it matters: The findings are shedding light on the hidden impacts of tourism on some of the world's most precious places. The study could also offer a better understanding of how resilient life is on Earth, and beyond.

Driving the news: Research published in February by CU Boulder shows scientists discovered DNA from the human nose and mouth in soil samples above 26,000 feet on Mount Everest — the first time that advanced gene sequencing technology has been used to analyze soil from such a high elevation, researchers say.

  • The data suggests that extremely high-elevation environments could act as "deep-freeze collection points" for certain microbes, including human-borne contaminants "that may never leave once they arrive."

What they're saying: "There is a human signature frozen in the microbiome of Everest, even at that elevation," Steve Schmidt, senior author on the paper, said in a statement.

The big picture: CU Boulder researchers say their work carries interstellar implications, particularly as scientists break new barriers in space.

  • "We might find life on other planets and cold moons," said Schmidt. "We'll have to be careful to make sure we're not contaminating them with our own."

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