If You Sneeze on Mount Everest, Your Germs Last for Centuries
Climbing to the top of Mount Everest, a feat that only around 6,000 people have achieved, is literally nothing to sneeze at. In fact, if you were to utter an achoo at its peak, those germs can last hundreds of years.
Up until now, scientists have wondered whether human microbes could withstand the cold temperature and 26,000-foot elevation. But they were recently able to accomplish this for the first time by using “culturing and next generation sequencing approaches,” they wrote in a new study. “There is a human signature frozen in the microbiome of Everest, even at that elevation,” confirmed Steve Schmidt, senior author of the study and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado Boulder. “If somebody even blew their nose or coughed, that’s the kind of thing that might show up.”
Over the years, Schmidt has sampled soils from places with similarly extreme conditions like Antarctica and the Andes. However, it wasn’t until 2019 that he connected with study co-author Baker Perry, a professor of geography at Appalachian State University and a National Geographic Explorer, who was making the trek to Mount Everest anyways. Schmidt asked him to pick up some soil samples as a scientific souvenir, and Perry happily obliged.
The findings are surprising given that human germs are meant to thrive in warm and wet environments, rather than an environment so harsh that hundreds of people haven’t made it there alive. They also obviously underscore the lasting impact tourism can have — even on the highest mountain in the world.
God bless you, Everest.