Day 87 - Interview: Bulgarian Expert Studies Antarctica's Fungi for Pharmaceutical Purposes
Chavdar Zhelev, a member of the 31st Bulgarian Antarctic Expedition, said in an interview for BTA that residual organic matter from various animals, including penguins, seals and birds, is the main factor for soil formation on Livingston Island, which is home to the St Kliment Ohridski Bulgarian Antarctic Base. Zhelev works with a state-owned forestry company in Bulgaria. He has been implementing a two-year project for the study of fungal biodiversity in organogenic soil on Livingston Island, organized by the Forest Research Institute of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.
The project is a follow-up to an earlier one implemented between 2018 and 2019, Zhelev explained. The main task back then was to take soil samples, study the condition and the composition of the soil, and examine fungal biodiversity. "The current project involves the same things, and the aim is to see how the composition and the types of the soils on Livingston Island impact fungal biodiversity and to examine how other kinds of organisms, either unicellular or multicellular, found in the soil, influence the biodiversity of fungi. The third factor we are studying is climate. We are collecting data about the weather and the impact of changing climate values on fungi," he said.
Fungi and spores found on the island are subjected to DNA analysis to determine the species they belong to and whether they are new to science. The ultimate goal is to find useful solutions for the science of pharmacy.
The whole project is being carried out around the Bulgarian Antarctic Base on Livingston Island, in places where there is organogenic soil, among them Hannah Point, Sally Rocks and Johnsons Dock. The presence of seals, penguins and fishing birds is quite prominent in these spots. Their large populations and the leftovers of their food create conditions for the development of organogenic soil.
Zhelev said: "We have noticed that most things that have to do with soil formation on the island occur within 200 metres from the shoreline. Even height is not a determining factor. We have been able to take soil samples from rocks which rise 50 to 150 metres above sea level, which is quite high. Even on rocks where we would have never imagined any proto-soil, we discovered matter left by fishing birds: excrements, traces of food which accumulated over the years. If the weather conditions are good, these things make it possible for organic substances to pile up and cause soil to form. The presence of lichen and moss as well as some types of grass colonies indicates that the soil formation process has begun."
One of the shoreline areas where such processes have been observed is an embankment measuring about two metres in height and 50-60 metres in length, situated on the sunnier (northern) side of Johnsons Dock. Stones washed up by the ocean are scattered around the place. "We discovered a 5-10 centimetre thick layer of soil there. The area is home to large numbers of penguins and seals. The whole embankment was green as the soil had formed straight on the stones without any need for sand, for example. Beyond the edge of the embankment, we did not find any element of soil formation because it is not a comfortable place for animals to breed, eat and spend the night. Organic matter from animals is an essential prerequisite for soil formation," Zhelev repeated.
During his stay on the island, he took 120 soil samples from 15 sites, which are to be analyzed in laboratories back in Bulgaria.
BTA's Daily News editor Konstantin Karagyozov is the only member of the media who is travelling on board the ship to Livingston Island and back and covered the Bulgarian expedition on site throughout its stay in Antarctica. All media outlets can use the Bulgaria-Antarctica BTA's Log for free.