Scientists have revived a ‘zombie virus’ that had been frozen in ice for 48,500 years. They found that it could still infect other cells.

A man walks through a tunnel formed of permafrost crystals outside the village of Tomtor.

A man walks through a tunnel formed of permafrost crystals outside the village of Tomtor.Maxim Shemetov/REUTERS

  • Scientists revived a 48,500-year-old “zombie virus” from permafrost and found it was still contagious.

  • The virus has been tested for amoebas, but could indicate more dangerous viruses lurking in the permafrost.

  • Some scientists are concerned that the thawing of permafrost due to climate change could awaken ancient viruses.

From a horror movie plot to real life, scientists have revived ancient “zombie” viruses from permafrost and found they can still infect living single-celled amoebas. The likelihood of these viruses infecting animals or humans is unclear, but the researchers say permafrost viruses should be considered a threat to public health.

Permafrost is a layer of soil that remains completely frozen year-round — at least back in the day, before human activities began to raise global temperatures. It covers 15% of the land in the Northern Hemisphere.

However, climate change is rapidly thawing permafrost, unearthing a myriad of ancient remains, from viruses and bacteria to woolly mammoths and an immaculately preserved cave bear.

ice age bears siberia

An Ice Age cave bear carcass found on Great Lyakhovsky Island, northern Russia, excavated by thawing permafrost.Northeastern Federal University via AP

According to CNN, French professor Jean-Michel Claverie has found strains of the 48,000-year-old frozen virus in some permafrost sites in Siberia. The oldest strain, which was 48,500 years old, came from a soil sample from an underground lake, while the youngest samples were 27,000 years old. One of the young monsters was discovered in the carcass of a woolly mammoth.

Some scientists fear that as climate change warms the Arctic, the thawing of permafrost could release ancient viruses that haven’t been in contact with living things for thousands of years. As such, plants, animals and humans may not have immunity to them.

“You have to remember that our immune defenses are developed in close contact with the microbiological environment,” Birgitta Evengård, emerita professor at Umea University’s Department of Clinical Microbiology in Sweden, told CNN.

“If there’s a virus hidden in the permafrost that we haven’t been in contact with for thousands of years, our immune system may not be up to par,” she added. “It is correct to respect the situation and to be proactive and not just reactive. And the way to fight fear is to have knowledge.”

How ‘zombie’ viruses can infect hosts as soon as they emerge

This isn’t Claverie’s first time reviving ancient viruses, or “zombie viruses” as he calls them. He has been publishing research on the subject since 2014 and says that outside of his work, very few researchers take these viruses seriously.

“This erroneously suggests that such occurrences are rare and that ‘zombie viruses’ pose no threat to public health,” Claverie and colleagues report in their latest paper, published Feb. 18 in the journal Viruses.

In that study, Claverie and his team were able to revive several new strains of “zombie” viruses and found that all of them could still infect cultured amoebae — a feat, Claverie said, that should be considered both a scientific curiosity as a worrying public concern. threat to health.

dirt road ends abruptly and plunges into running water 60 cm below in rural area with a few houses

Erosion, caused by thawing permafrost and the disappearance of sea ice that formed a protective barrier, is threatening homes in the Yupik Eskimo village of Quinhagak, Alaska.Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

“We consider these amoeba-infecting viruses as surrogates for all other possible viruses that could be in permafrost,” he told CNN. “We see the traces of many, many, many other viruses. So we know they’re there. We’re not sure if they’re still alive. But our reasoning is that if the amoeba viruses are still alive, there’s no reason why the other viruses are no longer alive and unable to infect their own hosts.”

Current research on frozen viruses such as Claverie’s “zombie” virus is helping scientists understand more about how these ancient viruses work and whether they could potentially infect animals or humans.

Old bacteria like anthrax may already be thawing and coming back to life

It’s not just viruses. Ancient bacteria may also be released for the first time in more than two million years and reactivated as the permafrost thaws.

That’s what happened, scientists think, when outbreaks of the bacterial infection anthrax showed up in humans and reindeer in Siberia in 2016.

That may be a “more immediate public health concern,” according to Calverie’s paper.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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