An international team of researchers have brought back to life what they believe to be the oldest virus ever resurrected
Melting permafrost may pose a danger to humanity, scientists have warned after reviving an ancient virus, which has remained frozen for tens of thousands of years.
These viruses are still capable of infecting living organisms, the international team said after observing a total of nine ancient viruses discovered in Siberian permafrost infecting amoebas in a laboratory.
The oldest of the recently discovered viruses is nearly 50,000 years old, the team said. “48,500 years is a world record” Jean-Michel Claverie, a member of the team and a researcher at the University of Aix-Marseille in France, told New Scientist. His team studied a total of seven ancient viruses in their latest study. The band released a preprint of their work earlier in November.
The group, which includes scientists from Russia, France and Germany, had previously managed to revive two other ancient viruses, 30,000 years old. The viruses discovered and resurrected by the team are believed to be the oldest ever resurrected, although some other researchers have claimed to have resurrected bacteria, believed to be up to 250 million years old.
All of the viruses resurrected by the team belong to the pandoravirus type – a group of giant viruses only capable of infecting single-celled organisms like amoebas. Yet the fact that the nine ancient viruses were still able to infect living cells after spending tens of thousands of years in permafrost means that other viruses – potentially contagious to plants, animals or even humans – trapped there could be freed – and revived – as well, scientists warn.
“There is a real danger” Claverie said, adding that “there are bacteria and viruses coming out every day.” Yet it is impossible to accurately determine the level of potential danger at present, the scientist added.
Russia has previously warned of the danger that could arise from the continued thawing of permafrost caused by climate change. Thawing of ground that has been deeply frozen for centuries, even millennia, could still contain “certain viable spores of ‘zombie’ bacteria and viruses”, Nikolay Korchunov, a senior Russian representative to the Arctic Council, told RT in 2021.
Moscow said it considered the danger serious enough to launch a biosafety project and called on all other Arctic Council countries to join. Besides Russia, the intergovernmental organization includes the United States, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Finland and Sweden.
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