What could possibly go wrong?
Scientists have revived the world’s oldest frozen “zombie virus” that has been dormant under a frozen lake in Russia for almost 50,000 years, prompting heightened fears of another global pandemic.
Researchers from France’s National Centre for Scientific Research have unearthed 13 ancient viruses, 7 of which have lain frozen in Siberian permafrost or permanently frozen ground.
The new discovery was published in the non-peer-reviewed journal bioRxiv.
According to the research, the oldest sample they discovered was a 48,500-year-old amoeba virus, in reference to Pandora’s box.
“48,500 years is a world record,” says Jean-Michel Claverie from the French National Centre for Scientific Research, who is the lead author of the research.
The ancient virus was discovered in a permafrost sample collected from the bottom of a lake in the Russian Republic of Yakutia, located 52 feet (16 m) below the surface, according to Ancient Origins.
“This particular virus is actually one of nine different types of viruses that have been resuscitated from Siberian permafrost samples in recent years. That includes seven viruses resuscitated for this new study, and two other approximately 30,000-year-old viruses brought back to life by the same team of researchers from other samples taken in 2013. The youngest of these viruses was frozen 27,000 years ago,” the outlet added.
New York Post reported:
The new strain is one of 13 viruses outlined in the study, each of which possessed its own genome, Science Alert reported. While the Pandoravirus was discovered below the bottom of a lake in Yukechi Alas in Yakutia, Russia, others have been found everywhere from mammoth fur to the intestines of a Siberian wolf.
After studying the live cultures, scientists found that all the “zombie viruses” have the potential to be infectious, and are therefore a “health threat.” They postulate that we could see more COVID-19-style pandemics in the future as ever-melting permafrost continues to release long-dormant viruses like a microbial Captain America.
“It is therefore legitimate to ponder the risk of ancient viral particles remaining infectious and getting back into circulation by the thawing of ancient permafrost layers,” they write. Unfortunately, it’s a vicious cycle as organic matter released by the thawing ice decomposes into carbon dioxide and methane, further enhancing the greenhouse effect and accelerating the melt.
The newly thawed virus might only be the tip of the epidemiological iceberg as there are likely more hibernating viruses yet to be discovered.
“If the authors are indeed isolating live viruses from ancient permafrost, it is likely that the even smaller, simpler mammalian viruses would also survive frozen for eons,” University of California virologist Eric Delwart told New Scientist.