Scientists Resurrect ‘Giant Virus’ from Siberian Permafrost After 30,000 Years
by Haylee Fisher (@haylee_fisher)
French scientists were recently studying microorganisms buried in the Siberian permafrost when they made a shocking new discovery. They thawed a virus that had been buried for 30,00 years and thus made it infectious once again.
However, don’t freak out just yet: the single-celled organism, known as Pithovirus sibericum, is not dangerous to humans or animals. Even so, its finding raises the possibility that as the permafrost melts due to global warming, humans could release ancient or eradicated viruses. These could include Neanderthal diseases or even smallpox that have been extinct for thousands of years.
This is not the first time scientists have found previously unknown pathogens in the permafrost. In fact, the Pithovirus sibericum belongs to a class of giant viruses that were discovered ten years ago. In their hunt to find out more, they took a second look at the samples they had collected and put them into contact with amoebas in Petri dishes. Some of the amoebas then burst and died. When the scientists investigated further, they found a virus had killed the amoebas, a virus that now belongs to the previously unknown family of viruses now called Pithovirus.
But again, scientists are not looking to revive viruses that could potentially kill humans; they just wish to study the permafrost’s layers to find pathogen markers that could possibly be harmful to humans.
A pathogen’s survivability in permafrost or otherwise all depends on the conditions it lives in – acidity in soil or water, temperature, and amount of sunlight all factor in to how long it can continue to exist. In all actuality, permafrost essentially freeze-dries organisms much in the same way scientists do in a lab in order to revive them later.
Is it just me, or does this all sound like something straight out of a science-fiction movie?