Scientists revive 48,500-year-old ‘zombie virus’ from Siberian permafrost
International scientists warn that the irreversible thawing of permafrost due to climate change could lead to a new threat to public health.
In a paper published in the bioRxiv preprint repository, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, French, Russian and German researchers said they had resurrected and discovered 13 new “zombie viruses” isolated from seven different samples of ancient Siberian permafrost.
A virus had been dormant and frozen underwater for nearly 50,000 years.
The authors found that the pathogens remain infectious after tens of thousands of years.
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Because each virus requires the development of a specific vaccine, antiviral or medical response, the paper says it is legitimate to ponder the risk of ancient viral particles remaining infectious and recirculating through thawing of ancient permafrost layers. .
In addition, the authors wrote that the biological danger associated with reactivating prehistoric amoeba-infecting viruses is “totally negligible” compared to searching for “paleoviruses” directly from the remains of prehistoric mammoths, woolly rhinoceros, or horses. preserved in permafrost.
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“Without the need to embark on such a risky project, we believe that our results with viruses that infect Acanthamoeba can be extrapolated to many other DNA viruses capable of infecting humans or animals,” the paper notes, adding that thawing of In the future, much older 50,000-year-old permafrost is likely to release unknown viruses as it thaws.
“How long these viruses could remain infectious once exposed to external conditions (UV light, oxygen, heat) and how likely they are to find and infect a suitable host in the interval is still impossible to estimate. But the risk is limited. increase in the context of global warming when permafrost thaw will continue to accelerate and more people will populate the Arctic in the wake of industrial enterprises,” the group said.
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Scientists have long warned that thawing permafrost will further contribute to the greenhouse effect.