A 48,500-year-old virus reawakened from ancient Siberian permafrost
Scientists have revived a number of ancient viruses that have been locked deep in Siberian permafrost since the Ice Age. While the research undoubtedly sounds risky, the team believes the threat is worth considering when we consider the growing dangers of thawing permafrost and climate change.
In the new paper, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, the researchers explain how they identified and revived 13 viruses belonging to five different clades from samples collected in the icy Russian Far East.
Among the catch, they managed to revive the virus from a sample of permafrost about 48,500 years old.
They also revived three new viruses from a 27,000-year-old sample of frozen mammoth feces and a piece of permafrost stuffed with a large amount of mammoth wool. This trio is aptly named Pithovirus mammoth, Pandoravirus mammoth, and A megaviral mammoth.
Two more new viruses were isolated from the frozen stomach contents of the Siberian wolf (Canis lupus), appointed Pacmanvirus lupus and Pandoravirus lupus.
These viruses infect amoebas, little more than single-celled blobs that live in soil and water, but experiments have shown that viruses still have the potential to be infectious pathogens. The team introduced the viruses into a culture of living amoeba, showing that they were still able to invade the cell and replicate.
The project comes from a team of researchers from Aix-Marseille University in France who previously revived a 30,000-year-old virus found in Siberian permafrost in 2014. With the latest batch of viruses, including one dating back 48,500 years, researchers may have revived the oldest virus yet.
“48,500 years is a world record,” said Jean-Michel Claverie, one of the authors of the paper and a professor of genomics and bioinformatics at the Faculty of Medicine of Aix-Marseille University. New Scientist.
Writing in their paper, the researchers explain that more work is needed to focus on viruses that infect eukaryotes, noting that “very few studies have been published on this topic.” They explain that the temperature is likely to rise due to climate change reawaken many microbial threatsincluding pathogenic viruses, from the ancient past.
“As is unfortunately well documented by recent (and ongoing) pandemics, any new virus, even associated with known families, almost always requires the development of highly specific medical responses, such as new antiviral drugs or vaccines,” the study authors write.
“There is no equivalent to ‘broad-spectrum antibiotics’ against viruses, due to the lack of universally conserved drug-tunable processes in different virus families. Therefore, it is legitimate to think about the risk of ancient viral particles remaining infectious and returning to circulation by melting ancient permafrost layers,” they add.
The paper has recently been uploaded to the preprint server bioRxiv.
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