An international team of researchers has brought back to life what they believe is the most ancient virus ever resuscitated
The melting permafrost may pose a danger to humanity, scientists have warned after reviving an ancient virus, which lay frozen for tens of thousands of years.
Such viruses are still capable of infecting living organisms, the international team said after they observed a total of nine ancient viruses discovered in the Siberian permafrost infecting amoebas in a lab.
The most ancient of the newly discovered viruses is almost 50,000-years-old, the team said. “48,500 years is a world record,” Jean-Michel Claverie, a team member and a researcher at the Aix-Marseille University in France, told the New Scientist. His team studied a total of seven ancient viruses in its latest study. The group published a preprint of their work earlier in November.
The group, which includes scientists from Russia, France and Germany had already previously managed to revive two other ancient viruses, which are 30,000-years-old. The viruses discovered and revived by the team are considered to be the most ancient one ever revived, although some other researchers claimed to have revived bacteria, which are said to be up to 250 million years old.
All viruses revived by the team belong to the pandoravirus type – a group of giant viruses only capable of infecting single-cell organisms like amoebas. Yet, the fact that all nine ancient viruses were still capable of infecting living cells after spending tens of thousands of years in permafrost means that other viruses – potentially contagious for plants, animals or even humans – trapped there could be released – and revived – as well, the 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 precisely determine the level of potential danger as of now, the scientist added.
Russia has already warned about the danger that may come as a result of the continued permafrost thawing caused by climate change. Thawing soil that has been deeply frozen for centuries, if not for millennia, could still contain “some viable spores of ‘zombie’ bacteria and viruses,” Nikolay Korchunov, a senior Russian representative to the Arctic Council told RT back in 2021.
Moscow said that it considers the danger to be serious enough to launch a biosafety project and called on all other Arctic Council nations to join it. Apart from Russia, the intergovernmental organization includes the US, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Finland, and Sweden.