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CHANDIGARH: Until now, it was believed that the healing properties of the Ganga were merely the stuff of myths.

However, scientists from the Institute of Microbial Technology (Imtech), Chandigarh, have for the first time come forward with scientific evidence that the water of Ganga does not putrefy easily. They have identified new viruses, or bacteriophages, which mimic bacteria in the river’s sediment and eat them up.

The scientific world has always been baffled by the antiseptic properties of Ganga’s waters. In 1896, British physician E Hanbury Hankin observed that cholera microbes died within three hours in its water, but thrived in distilled water.

This remained hypothetical until Imtech experts found the new viruses. Imtech is one of the laboratories of the CSIR. The study has revealed 20 to 25 types of bacteriophages in the river which can fight microorganisms that cause diseases like tuberculosis, pneumonia, cholera and urinary tract infection, among others.

“We analysed the viral metagenomes in sediments of the Ganga and found different types of phages, said Dr Shanmugam Mayilraj, senior principal scientist at Imtech. He said the sediments house several novel viruses, which were never reported earlier. These are active against certain bacterial strains and can be used against multidrug resistant infections.

The team collected samples from the highly polluted Haridwar-Varanasi stretch. Also part of the project were National Environment Engineering Research Institute co-ordinating lab, National Botanical Research Institute, Indian Institute of Toxicology Research and Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants.

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