According to a pre-print study, scientists from France’s National Centre for Scientific Research have successfully thawed more than a dozen ancient viruses from the depths of the Siberian permafrost.
In seven different samples of ancient permafrost, researchers were able to establish the existence of thirteen previously unknown viruses that have remained inactive for tens of thousands of years because they were frozen in the ice.
According to the BBC, in 2014, the same group of researchers discovered a virus that had been preserved in permafrost for 30,000 years. The fact that the virus was still able to infect creatures after all this time was a significant breakthrough brought about by the discovery. However, they have now surpassed their previous achievement by resurrecting a virus that is 48,500 years old.
As per Science Alert, the name Pandoravirus yedoma was assigned to the ancient virus. This name was chosen since it recognizes both the magnitude of the virus and the kind of permafrost soil in which it was discovered.
In order to evaluate how dangerous these long-extinct viruses are to the general population, researchers are thawing them out. The permafrost, also known as permanently frozen earth, in the Northern Hemisphere is melting, and with it comes the release of tons of chemicals and bacteria that had been locked within the ice.
“Due to climate warming, irreversibly thawing permafrost is releasing organic matter frozen for up to a million years, most of which decomposes into carbon dioxide and methane, further enhancing the greenhouse effect,” the study’s authors wrote. “Part of this organic matter also consists of revived cellular microbes (prokaryotes, unicellular eukaryotes) as well as viruses that remained dormant since prehistorical times.”
According to the scientists’ warning, there is a possibility that some of these “zombie viruses” might pose a threat to human beings. In point of fact, melting permafrost has already been responsible for the loss of human life.
In 2016, an epidemic of anthrax in Siberia resulted in the death of one kid and the hospitalization of dozens of other individuals. The authorities suspect that the epidemic was caused by a heat wave that melted the permafrost and found the corpse of a reindeer that had been afflicted with anthrax decades before. Approximately 2,300 reindeer perished as a result of the outbreak.
The pandoraviruses, cedratviruses, megaviruses, pacmanviruses, and pithoviruses are the sub-types of viruses that are represented by the resurrected viruses that the researchers discovered. These viruses are referred to as “giant” viruses because light microscopy makes it simple to identify them due to their size.
Researchers assume that this is the case since there are numerous other little viruses that have evaded investigation for this reason.
The researchers also employed amoeba cells as “virus bait” to determine what viruses were still alive and able to penetrate an organism. This was done by observing which viruses were able to infect the amoeba cells. According to the researchers, this meant that they could only identify “lytic viruses,” which are viruses that kill the host they infect, as opposed to other types of viruses that can combine their DNA with that of their host.
The authors of the study believe that there is a “negligible” danger of these amoeba-infecting viruses exerting a detrimental influence on human beings. This is one positive takeaway from the research. However, this does not imply that all old viruses are safe.
The scientists pointed out that the “risky” hunt for viruses identified in the “permafrost-preserved remains of mammoths, woolly rhinoceros, or prehistoric horses” is a very other tale altogether.
It is unknown if these ancient viruses would be able to infect a host after being subjected to environmental factors such as heat, oxygen, and ultraviolet light in the open air. However, academics believe that the likelihood of such an event occurring is growing as more of the permafrost begins to thaw and as more people continue to inhabit the melting Arctic for the sake of commercial and industrial endeavors.
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