A recent discovery of a giant monster virus in Siberian Permafrost has told scientists that certain viruses can survive after being frozen for a very long time. It has also caused them worry as it is not certain what viruses could be lying beneath, and whether or not they could be harmful to humans and animals.
According to The Weather Network, a team of French scientists with the French National Centre for Scientific Research discovered a new yet ancient virus known as Mollivirus sibericum, which translates into "soft Siberian virus".
This pathogen was hidden in fruit seeds buried by an ancient squirrel, says CNN, and when Russian scientists were regenerating the seeds into full-flowing plants, the virus was founded within the soil. It was formally dormant, frozen 30 meters below the earth in a deep layer of Siberian permafrost at the Kolyma lowland region of northeastern Russia.
This Mollivirus sibericum is a "monster", as it measures at 0.6 microns. A micron is one thousandth of a millimeter, but most giant viruses measure at 0.5 micron. This pathogen may only be visible under a microscope, but in terms of a virus, that is quite big.
The new virus is the fourth in a series of recently discovered prehistoric viruses. The first was the Mimivirus, then two Pandoraviruses. It was one of these two discoveries, the Pithovirus sibericum, was the biggest ever found, uncovered a decade ago.
According to the BBC, Professor jean-Michel Claverie, from the National Centre of Scientific Research (CNRS) at the University of Aix-Marseille in France has said: "This is the first time we've seen a virus that's still infectious after this length of time". He and his French scientists also say that the contagion does not pose any danger to humans or animals, but it does attack amoebas.
There are other viruses that could be unleashed as the ground becomes more exposed. Dr. Chantal Abergal, also from the CNRS, says that there could be other more deadly pathogens locked in Siberia's permafrost. Abergel says that "we are addressing the issue by sequencing the DNA that is present in those layers".
The issue is that this region in Siberia is under threat. Climate change is causing the permafrost to retreat and reduce its thickness, which means that there is potential for other viruses to be found. These viruses from a bygone era would be unleashed on a modern society, and human bodies of this present time might not have any defense from them.
For example, ancient strains of the smallpox virus, which was eradicated over 30 years ago, could be making a terrifying comeback. Of course, it is not clear whether viruses that were buried and frozen could just suddenly become active again, especially after such a long period of time has passed.
Jonathan Ball, a virologist from the University of Nottingham, states that "finding a virus still capable of infecting its host after such a long time is still pretty astounding - but just how long other viruses could remain viable in permafrost is anyone's guess. It will depend a lot on the actual virus. I doubt they are all as robust as this one."
Ball also said that the freezing and thawing process will pose problems, which will cause the viruses to find a host to infect as fast as possible.