A group of French scientists found a prehistoric virus in the Siberian permafrost and now they plan to soon give it a wake up call. Researchers said that the Mollivirus sibericum may be 30,000 years old and it wouldn’t be revived if it is proved harmful to humans or animals.
Critics are concerned that reviving the virus is not such a good idea since ancient dormant viruses were put to sleep during the last Ice Age and we don’t know for sure what effects these microorganisms may have on modern-day humans.
But waking up more ancient viruses is now a global threat, some scientists claim, because global warming is pushing permafrost even higher in northern latitudes.
The discovery was made by a team from the French National Center for Scientific Research that published a paper on the new findings this week in the journal PNAS.
Researchers noted that the virus is “giant” because they didn’t need an electron microscope to see it. Moreover, the virus is more complex than any other viruses discovered on Earth. Its genetic code is home to over 500 genes, while the common strain of influenza virus hosts only 8 genes.
But it isn’t the first time the research team finds an ancient virus in the Siberian permafrost. Several years ago they detected another giant microorganism called Pithovirus sibericum. The Pithovirus was thawed and revived under strict laboratory conditions. Scientists learned that the virus was still infectious but fortunately it had only an appetite for amoebas.
The PNAS study argues that such giant viruses that are still infectious when taken out of their frozen coffins may raise a series of concerns to worldwide epidemiologists as global temperatures continue to rise.
Study authors believe that as permafrost continues to thaw away many other giant viruses would be released in the environment and could infect unsuspected hosts and even give rise to unprecedented epidemics.
Jean-Michel Claverie, lead author of the recent study, believes that the may be other factors that may wake up the prehistoric viruses. As permafrost disappears, the land may lure oil companies to explore new resources. But industrial exploration in the area could wake up more unknown pathogens.
Claverie and his colleagues think that it takes only a vulnerable host and a dormant virus to revive these giant viruses that humanity never heard of. Other ancient viruses may even trigger outbreaks of diseases that we long eradicated such as smallpox, Claverie added.
Image Source: Public-Domain-Image