Bringing a 30,000-year-old virus back to life sounds like spooky. It’s like you’re about to know a chilling plot from a horror movie. Unbelievable but true, it seems that mankind keeps trying to open an ancient can of worms.
So now, these crazy scientists are planning to bring it back to life. Why? No one knows, but they promise to make sure that the giant virus won’t harm anyone.
The “giant” virus was discovered frozen in the permafrost of Siberia. Found buried 30 meters (100 feet) deep in the frozen soil, this could be the second time that the team of researchers will reawaken a prehistoric virus. The virus is called Mollivirus sibericum.
Giant viruses are those that measure longer than half a micron, or a thousandth of a millimeter, and thus can be observed under a light microscope, unlike other viruses that are far too tiny. Mollivirus sibericum, known as the “soft virus from Siberia”, comes in at 0.6 microns, just making it into the giant virus group. Before attempting to revive it, the team of researchers plan on determining if the virus is deadly to animals or humans, though considering all previous examples have turned out to be harmless, the likelihood that this one proves deadly is not that alarming.
But that doesn’t mean that in the future, other viruses found frozen in the permafrost will be similarly benign. Scientists warn that with climate change, melting the ground in northern Siberia at an increasing rate, will have the potential to wake up more harmful virus.
According to Jean-Michel Claverie, one of the lead authors of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, to AFP:
A few viral particles that are still infectious may be enough, in the presence of a vulnerable host, to revive potentially pathogenic viruses. If we are not careful, and we industrialize these areas without putting safeguards in place, we run the risk of one day waking up viruses such as smallpox that we thought were eradicated.”
The new virus is the second discovery of Claverie and his team, who resurrected Pithovirus sibericum in 2014, which was found in the same 30,000-year-old sample of permafrost. What surprised the scientists was not only that they retained their capacity to infect amoeba, but that these prehistoric viruses are much more genetically complex than their smaller modern counterparts.
In safe laboratory conditions, the researchers hope to try and revive the newly discovered virus in order to better understand its origin and mode of evolution. And if it can be easily revived, as before, the authors note that this find “should be of concern in a context of global warming.”
via BBC News