Scientists Plan to Reawaken a 30,000-Year-Old Virus

Wednesday, 09 September 2015 - 10:18AM
Wednesday, 09 September 2015 - 10:18AM
Scientists Plan to Reawaken a 30,000-Year-Old Virus
Last year, researchers found a prehistoric giant virus that had been preserved in Siberian permafrost for 30,000 years. Now, scientists plan to reanimate the virus, because that sounds like a great idea, and infect a single-celled organism.

The virus is called Mollivirus sibericum, or "soft virus from Siberia," and it qualifies as a "giant" since the viral particles are longer than a micron. In order to awaken the virus, the researchers will inject it into an amoeba, which will serve as its host.

This sounds suspiciously like the plot of several sci-fi horror movies, such as The Thing, in which a deadly organism is preserved in arctic environments (although those are usually extraterrestrial viruses). Luckily, the researchers insist that their initial findings show the virus can't infect humans or animals, and that they will ensure this is true before reviving it.

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"A few viral particles that are still infectious may be enough, in the presence of a vulnerable host, to revive potentially pathogenic viruses," lead researcher Jean-Michel Claverie told Agence France-Presse (via Al Jazeera America).
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Most terrifyingly, the researchers warn that there may be other, more dangerous viruses in the permafrost that could potentially be reawakened in uncontrolled environments. Global warming is quickly warming the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions, which means that long-preserved pathogens could be released into the air when the permafrost begins to melt. The area in which this particular virus was found will be attractive for industrialization once the ice melts, as it contains valuable natural resources such as oil, so people and companies may move in around the same time and provide hosts for infection.

Opening quote
"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 small pox that we thought were eradicated," said Claverie.
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