Scientists have revived eons old ‘zombie viruses’ from the Siberian permafrost.
Out of the 13 new viruses that have been identified, the oldest is a 48,500-year-old amoeba virus, according to the findings posted by researchers in the pre-print server bioRxiv.
“48,500 years is a world record,” Jean-Michel Claverie, co-author and a professor of genomics and bioinformatics at Aix-Marseille University’s School of Medicine, told New Scientist.
Researchers warned it may just be the tip of the iceberg, adding that continued global warming will thaw the Siberian permafrost to reveal nastily pathogens from melting organic matter.
“One-quarter of the Northern Hemisphere is underlain by permanently frozen ground, referred to as permafrost,” researchers wrote in the paper. “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.”
In contrast to the record-breaking virus, Pandoravirus yedoma, which was found under a lake, three other viruses were collected from 27,000-year-old samples of mammoth poop and mammoth wool. Honoring their origin, the scientists named the viruses Pithovirus mammoth, Pandoravirus mammoth, and Megavirus mammoth.
At the same time, two other viruses were separately isolated from the stomach of a Siberian wolf (Canis lupus). They have been aptly named Pacmanvirus lupus and Pandoravirus lupus, as per IFLScience.
All 13 of the viruses were different from each other genetically, the study confirmed.
“As unfortunately well documented by recent (and ongoing) pandemics, each new virus, even related to known families, almost always requires the development of highly specific medical responses, such as new antivirals or vaccines,” authors of the study wrote. “It is therefore legitimate to ponder the risk of ancient viral particles remaining infectious and getting back into circulation by the thawing of ancient permafrost layers.”
Virologist Eric Delwart, from the University of California in San Francisco, who was not a part of the study, affirmed his agreement with the authors.
Climate change caused by various factors including global warming is leading to many disastrous consequences and one of which is the melting of the ice caps of the planet earth. The melting of glaciers and other ice-clad regions are now releasing material that laid frozen for millions of years. One such phenomenon is occurring in the Siberian permafrost and scientists have now revived a number of “zombie viruses” and many of which impose a great threat to the human race.
A journal published by microbiologist Jean-Marie Alempic of the French National Centre for Scientific Research and his team, states that the reanimating viruses are a potential threat to public health and further study needs to be done to assess the range of the danger that these infectious agents pose as they slip away from the icy grip.
Alempic along with his team of scientists characterized 13 new viruses isolated from 7 different ancient Siberian permafrost samples. Out of these 13 viruses, one found beneath a lake in the permafrost region is the 48,500-year-old amoeba virus.
Using live single-cell amoeba cultures, the team proved that these “zombie viruses” still have the potential to be infectious pathogens. the nearly 50,000 years record age-old virus is capable of infecting other organisms.
“The situation would be much more disastrous in the case of plant, animal, or human diseases caused by the revival of an ancient unknown virus,” researchers stated in the journal ‘Science Alert’.