London: Scientists have found a treasure trove of microorganisms with potential to treat HIV in Chile's Atacama Desert, one of the highest and driest places on Earth.
Researchers have explained these exciting findings from soil samples taken from heights of 3,000 to 5,000 metres above sea level.
Michael Goodfellow, from the Newcastle University in the UK, said the study focused on actinobacteria as they are keystone species in our ecosystems and are acknowledged as an unrivalled source of bioactive compounds.
"Surprisingly, we found that this landscape is an extraordinary repository for actinobacterial 'dark matter' - which comprises the vast majority of microbes that microbiologists are currently unable to cultivate," said Goodfellow in the study published in the journal Extremophiles.
"It is particularly interesting that there is so much 'dark matter' in Atacama Desert soils, which until recently were thought to be devoid of life," he said.
The researchers found that 40 per cent of the actinobacteria captured in samples could not be given ascribed names as they had never before been discovered.
"This microbial seed bank represents an enormous untapped resource for biotechnology programmes, especially in an era where resistance to existing antibiotics is rapidly becoming a major threat to global health," Goodfellow said.
He said the discovery of new bacteria could potentially be used to create new treatments as work continues to tackle the antibiotics problem.
"It is also notable that one strain of bacteria found is proven to be an inhibitor of an enzyme that allows the HIV virus to reproduce itself. This could provide essential clues for the development of anti-HIV drugs," Goodfellow said.