Scientists revive 48,500-year-old ‘zombie virus’ buried in ice
The thawing of ancient permafrost due to climate change could pose a new threat to humans, according to researchers who have revived nearly two dozen viruses — including one frozen under a lake more than 48,500 years ago.
European researchers examined ancient samples collected from permafrost in the Siberian region of Russia. They revived and characterized 13 new pathogens, what they called “zombie viruses,” and found that they remained infectious despite spending many millennia trapped in the frozen soil.
Scientists have long warned that melting permafrost due to atmospheric warming will exacerbate climate change by releasing previously trapped greenhouse gases like methane. But its effect on dormant pathogens is less understood.
The team of researchers from Russia, Germany and France said the biological risk of reviving the viruses they studied was “completely negligible” because of the strains they were targeting, mostly those capable of infecting amoeba microbes. The potential revival of a virus that could infect animals or humans is much more problematic, they said, warning that their work could be extrapolated to show the danger is real.
“Therefore, ancient permafrost is likely to release these unknown viruses after thawing,” they wrote in an article published in the not-yet-peer-reviewed preprint repository bioRxiv. “How long these viruses can remain infectious after being exposed to external conditions, and how likely they are to encounter and infect a suitable host in that interval, is still impossible to estimate.”
“But the risk will increase in the context of global warming when the melting of permafrost continues to accelerate and more people inhabit the Arctic after industrial endeavours,” they said.
(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and was automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)
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