The 30,000-Year-Old Virus That Came Out Of The Permafrost

Grace Higgins | March 24th, 2020

It sounds like the plot of the next end of the world movie but scientists did discover a 30,000-year-old virus in the Siberian permafrost. And the worst part? The virus was still just as contagious and just as dangerous today as it was so many years ago. The scientist discovered the ancient virus buried deep in the ice, and it is known to be part of a collective of ancient viruses known simply as the giant viruses.

nature.org

It is not a unique discovery, as Molivirus Subericum has been discovered before once in 2003 and again in 2015. Many researchers worry that the rude awakening of what we could call a Frankenstein virus may have graven consequences on the world and lead to trouble. However, there is not much to worry about as this particular virus does not pose any true threat to humans. The danger is more to do with how climate change will affect these so-called giant viruses, how they may reappear into the world and what changes that could have on our existing ecosystem.

Now the reason these viruses are called giants is actually down to their size. Today scientists require electron microscopes to look at the cells and molecules of viruses as they are so small. However, these ancient viruses are bigger and scientists can study them with light microscopes. For example, this frozen Siberian virus has over 500 genes in it, whereas today a virus such as HIV only has 9 genes in it. One of the other viruses discovered in the Siberian frost called Pandoraviruses is so big it can occasionally be found with up to 2,500 genes in it.

Despite being frozen for over 30,000 years, researchers still need to take the utmost care when analyzing their findings. The few viral particles found in the genes can still be infectious and could lead to the reviving of pathogenic viruses that cause diseases in animals or humans. Luckily for the researchers, they have identified that this particular dormant virus would only infect the amoebas species.

The problem is, of course, global warming which is causing the awakening of many viruses around the world in the artic and sub arctic regions. These regions are now warming up twice as fast as the rest of the world, which is causing all sorts of pathogens to be released out of the permafrost.

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