Scientists have revived a 48,000-year-old ‘zombie virus,’ among 13 other viruses, that had been trapped under a frozen lake in Russia. This discovery sparks fears of another pandemic as the viruses found have the potential to be infectious.
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Thawing of ancient permafrost due to climate change may pose a new threat to humans, and a team of scientists from the French National Centre for Scientific Research affirms that. The team recently revived more than a dozen ancient viruses that laid frozen and dormant in the Siberian permafrost in Russia for thousands of years.
According to a bioRxiv study that hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed, among the viruses is a pathogen known as Pandoravirus yedoma, which scientists believe is older than 48,500 years. This virus was discovered at the bottom of Lake Yukechi Alas, breaking the previous record of a 30,000-year-old virus identified by the same researchers in 2013. The other viruses were discovered beneath the permafrost in mammoth fur and the intestines of a Siberian wolf.
All 13 viruses have different genomes, and the team behind the discovery warns that they have the potential to be infectious, thus, posing a public “health threat”.
Scientists have long warned that the thawing of permafrost due to climate change could release deadly pathogens that have lied dormant for centuries. The findings in this study can be ‘extrapolated’ to show the danger is real, according to the study authors.
“It is thus likely that ancient permafrost will release these unknown viruses upon thawing. How long these viruses could remain infectious once exposed to outdoor conditions… is yet impossible to estimate. However, the risk is bound to increase in the context of global warming when permafrost thawing will keep accelerating, and more people will be populating the Arctic in the wake of industrial ventures,” the research team wrote.
More hazardous viruses may have been sitting dormant for thousands of years in the permafrost.
Virologist Eric Delwart from the University of California, San Francisco, told New Scientist, “If the authors are indeed isolating live viruses from ancient permafrost, it is likely that the even smaller, simpler mammalian viruses would also survive frozen for eons.”