30,000-year-old ‘giant’ virus found in frozen wastelands of Siberia

Scientists have warned that climate change may awaken dangerous microscopic pathogens. A 30,000-year-old giant virus has been unearthed in the frozen wastelands of Siberia and they said that they will reanimate it. Reanimate means restore to life or consciousness. A virus is a small infectious agent that replicates only inside the living cells of other organisms. Viruses can infect all types of life forms, from animals and plants to microorganisms.

French researchers announced the discovery of Mollivirus sibericum, the fourth type of prehistoric virus found since 2003 this week in the flagship journal of the US National Academy of Sciences. In safe laboratory conditions, researchers will attempt to revive the newly discovered virus by placing it with single-cell amoeba, which will serve as its host.

The saga of giant viruses or viruses visible under a microscope started in 2003 with the discovery of Mimivirus. Two additional types of giant viruses infecting Acanthamoeba have been discovered since the Pandoraviruses in 2013 and Pithovirus sibericum in 2014, the latter one revived from 30,000-y-old Siberian permafrost. PNAS describes Mollivirus sibericum, a fourth type of giant virus isolated from the same permafrost sample. The fact that two different viruses could be easily revived from prehistoric permafrost should be of concern in a context of global warming.

Mollivirus sibericum, “soft virus from Siberia”, is 0.6 microns, and was found in the permafrost of northeastern Russia.

Every aspect of the consequence this bug can have on humans and animals will be analysed before reviving it.

Permafrost is not permanent following the climate change that is warming the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions at more than twice the global average.

One of the lead researchers, Jean-Michel Claverie, told AFP, “A few viral particles that are still infectious may be enough, in the presence of a vulnerable host, to revive potentially pathogenic viruses.”

Claverie said that if these areas are industrialised without putting safeguards in place, there is a possibility that viruses like small pox can come back to life.

Claverie, who runs a lab at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), and a team discovered another giant virus, which they called Pithovirus sibericum, at the same location in 2013, then managed to revive it in a Petri dish.

sibericum has more than 500 genes and the Influenza A virus comparatively has eight genes, which means that unlike most viruses today, those from the ice-age are bigger and complex.

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