NEXER associated researchers look into identify microorganisms that live in the Andean heights

Although the Andes Mountain Range is well known for its geography and tourism, the microbial communities in that zone are still poorly studied, mainly due to the challenges of all the logistics necessary to work in adverse environmental conditions and over 4,000 meters above sea level. The Laboratory of Microbial Complexity and Functional Ecology, of the UA (Universidad de Antofagasta) Antofagasta Institute, works to identify the microorganisms that live at these heights due to the scientific value and the biotechnological wealth that they hide.

The last field sampling campaign (February 2020) was carried out at the Llullaillaco volcano (6,739 masl) located in the Llullaillaco National Park, 275 km southeast of Antofagasta. The area has 268,670 hectares of surface, protected by CONAF. Professionals from the Universidad de Antofagasta, Pablo Arán Sekul, biotechnologist, Master in Ecology of Aquatic Systems and Jonathan García Araya, T.M and Ph.D student in Biological Sciences UA, both part of the Laboratory of Microbial Complexity and Functional Ecology, participated in this “sampling”.


“We had several objectives, among them taking soil samples at different heights, penitent samples, water samples and working with another group of national and foreign scientists who are experts in high-altitude mammals. Due to the storms of the previous days (the volcano was covered above 5,800 masl with snow), it was impossible to access the lagoon, but we also made a transect with an altitude gradient at 5,000-5,200-5,400-5,600-5,800- 6,000 masl ”, explained to the UA Press, Jonathan García.

Regarding to the importance of this work, the professional pointed out that the samples obtained are used to determine the microorganisms present at high altitudes, compare them with previous works and also visualize the temporal altitudinal changes and the ecological roles, “in addition from the search for new cultivable species and their possible biotechnological applications, for example, in the study of CRISPR sequences, a state of art technique that allows gene editing, ”said the professional.

This field trip was financed by FONDECYT 1181773 project, NEXER Network and CeBiB “Center for Biotechnology and Bioengineering”.


In this volcano was found the highest Inca sanctuary in the world, 3 mummies known as “Los Niños del Llullaillaco” were discovered there at 6,700 masl near the top. Today, these bodies and the accessories found are preserved in the High Mountain Archeology Museum of Salta, Argentina.

The research team had all the necessary equipment to carry out their mission, having at their disposal vehicles, tents, food, clothing and accessories necessary for the place and also 24/7 radio support from from Radio Club “la Portada” CE1RLP. They also had the support and authorization of CONAF since the study area is part of the Llullaillaco National Park.

“Another important point is that we were able to acclimatize at the CONAF high mountain refuge, located at 4,100 meters above sea level. This place is fundamentally strategic, as it is also an excellent safeguard in case we need to protect ourselves from a storm ”, concluded the Ph.D student at the Universidad de Antofagasta.


Written by: David Pasten (COMUNICACIONES UA)

Translation: BQ. María Javiera Guarda 

BQ. Francisca Gómez

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