A giant 30,000-year-old pre-historic virus that has been discovered deep in the Siberian permafrost reveals that huge ancient viruses are much more different than scientists had ever known.
These ancient viruses are also potentially infectious if thawed from their Siberian deep freeze, though they pose no danger to humans, said Chantal Abergel, a scientist at the National Center for Scientific Research at Aix-Marseille University in France. But as the globe warms and the region thaws, mining and drilling will likely penetrate those previously inaccessible areas and there’s a great chance of these viruses coming back to life.
The French researchers stated that they are planning to resurrect the 30,000-year-old virus which they discovered lying dormant in the Siberian permafrost in order to learn more about it and determine whether it is pathogenic to humans or animals.
Known as the Mollivirus sibericum, it is a giant virus (0.6 microns long) with more than 500 genes. In comparison, HIV has only 5 genes. SARS and Corona viruses are mostly 0.1 microns in diameter. A micron is 1/1,000th of a millimeter.
Mollivirus sibericum as seen under a microscope.
The area where the prehistoric virus was found is known for its rich mineral resources. Access to places such as the Siberian wastelands is slowly increasing, due to the continuous melting of the layers of ice covering the areas.
The area where the prehistoric virus was found is known for its rich mineral resources.
However, there is a caveat – climate change and the continuous melting of permafrost can result in the resurrection of other dangerous pathogens, such as the smallpox virus.
If we are not careful, and we industrialize these areas without putting safeguards in place, we run the risk of one day waking up viruses such as small pox that we thought were eradicated,” said Jean-Michel Claverie, one of the lead researchers.
This is the fourth virus of its kind discovered since 2003 – the Minivirus was found in 2003, the Pandoravirus in 2013, and the Pithovirus sibericum last 2014.
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