Scientists are warning that “zombie viruses” may pose a public health risk. These viruses are long-frozen bugs that haven’t been released into the population for many centuries. The concern is that the unprecedented thaws we are seeing will unearth the viruses that have been trapped under ice for as many as 50,000 years.
Study Reports That Global Warming Is Causing Thaws In Permafrost, Releasing Previously Frozen “Zombie” Viruses
Recent studies note that global warming is affecting outdoor areas known to be heavy in permafrost. These permafrost areas are ground that had previously been permanently frozen. Now, these areas are beginning to thaw, releasing “organic matter frozen for up to a million years,” a study notes. Among these, experts say, could be harmful pathogens.
“The situation would be much more disastrous in the case of plant, animal, or human diseases caused by the revival of an ancient unknown virus,” notes a recent study. This latest research is headed by Jean-Marie Alempic, a microbiologist from the French National Centre for Scientific Research,
“Part of this organic matter also consists of revived cellular microbes (prokaryotes, unicellular eukaryotes),” the research continues. “As well as viruses that remained dormant since prehistorical times.”
Scientists Are “Reviving” These Prehistoric Viruses In Order To Further Study The Organisms
As scientists continue to uncover these awakening organisms, they are reviving some of the “zombie” viruses. The oldest of which has been dubbed the “Pandoravirus”
The soil this particular “zombie” virus was found in is at least 48,500 years old. This, the research notes, is the oldest soil from which a virus has returned to a state where it could possibly infect organisms. The previous record along these lines was held by a 30,000-year-old virus that was discovered by this same research team nearly a decade ago.
Could These Viruses Pose A Modern-Day Health Threat?
The new study outlines 13 viruses, each of which possesses its own genome. The Pandoravirus strain was discovered at the bottom of a Yakutia, Russian lake. However, some of the other zombie viruses have been found in a variety of places. Including within mammoth fur to the intestines of a Siberian wolf.
Scientists have determined that all of these previously frozen viruses have the potential to become infectious. Therefore, the study notes, they can be a health threat.
“It is therefore legitimate to ponder the risk of ancient viral particles remaining infectious,” the study explains. “And getting back into circulation by the thawing of ancient permafrost layers.”