Health In Focus
  • Polluted Ganga river has a healing touch
  • Presence of bacteriophages in Ganga waters
  • Phage therapy for Multiple-Drug Resistance (MDR) infections

The mysterious healing power of the Ganges water, or "Brahm Dravya", has been proven to have the "healing touch" and self purifying properties. Bacteriophages, the viruses that eat bacteria, were found in the waters of Ganga. These viruses can be used in phage therapy, a natural alternative to antibiotics.

The waters of Ganga have also shown to retain high amounts of dissolved oxygen, despite the pollution. This is the reason that even the polluted Ganga waters is still being considered holy.
Purity of Ganga River - A Scientific Approach

Microbiologists from the Chandigarh-based institute of Microbial Technology (IMTECH) studied that bacteria in the Ganges waters are non-putrefying. This means that they do not decompose the waste that is thrown in the river.

The scientists studied the fresh water sedimentary metagenome-viromes and found that apart from the bacteriophages and the non-putrefying bacteria the waters also contain the double stranded DNA viruses.

Dr. Shanmugam Mayilraj, Senior Principal Scientist at the CSIR-Institute of Microbial Technology Chandigarh, has quoted in The Indian Science Journal that they have identified 20-25 interesting viruses.

These viruses were never reported earlier and are found to be active against certain clinical isolates. This makes them useful against multi-drug resistant infections, or MDR infections.

Some of the MDR infections include:

A bacteriophage is a virus that infects a bacterium and replicates within the bacterium and destroys it. Bacteriophages have been used as an alternative to antibiotics against infectious diseases for over 90 years.

Microbes of the Ganges Water:

Various types of bacterial groups were found to be present in the samples of the waters of Ganga and the sediment.

The sample of Ganges waters contained bacterial groups:
  • Flavobacteria
  • β-proteobacteria
  • Oscillatoriphycudea
The sediment also contained some different strains:
  • Actinobacteria
  • Α-proteobacteria
  • Sphingobacteria
  • Deltaproteobacteria
The virus (bacteriophage) groups found in the waters are:
  • Siphoviridae
  • Podoviridae
  • Myoviridae
The water samples were collected before monsoon and after monsoon from the Haridwar to Varanasi stretch of the Ganga River. This stretch is known to be the highly polluted region of the Ganga Basin.

Details of the Study:
  • Started in November 2014
  • Commissioned by federal Water Resources and Ganga Rejuvenation Ministry.
  • Headed by Kum. Uma Bharati
  • Conducted by IMTECH
  • Other participants are National Botanical Research Institute, Indian Institute Toxicology Research and Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (all in Lukhnow)
The virus found in the waters and sediments mimic bacteria in the sediment of the river and eventually eat them up. The bacteriophages also feed on the decomposing bodies and other waste that are dumped into the river.

One of the earliest studies on the waters of Ganga was done by E Hanbury Hankin, a British physician. He reported that cholera microbes died within three hours in the Ganga water, while they survived in distilled water even after 48 hours.

Ganga, the Holy River:

The Ganga originates from the western Himalayas and flows through various states of northern India. Throughout its journey, it is joined by various tributaries like Gomti, Kosi and Yamuna.

In Hindu mythology, Ganga is considered to have descended from the heavens for the purpose of redemption of the dead.

Pollution in the Ganga:

The various sources of pollution in Ganga include:
  • Sewage from many cities along the Basin
  • Industrial wastes
  • Religious offerings, often in plastic containers
  • Cremation of the deceased, containing bones and ashes
  • Un-cremated dead bodies
  • Illegal mining in the Ganga river bed
The IMTECH team would now collect water samples from other rivers like Yamuna and Narmada for a comparative study to find why the Ganga waters are special.

This discovery of bacteriophages in the river Ganga can bridge the gap between its reputation of self-purifying abilities and its potential disease-fighting abilities.

References :
  1. Bacteriophages and the Mystery of the Ganges - (
Source: Medindia

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