A 30,000-year-old prehistoric Siberian virus will be reanimated soon by French scientists. The findings of their research are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Mollivirus Sibericum (transmission electron microscopy). Photo credits: IGS, CNRS-AMU.
The virus was found in deep underground in the frozen world of Siberia. The discovery Mollivirus sibericum marks the fourth event of such a nature. Earlier, the same team of researchers found other similar “giant viruses” – because they are visible by light microscopy – Pithovirus sibericum, and Mollivirus sibericum.
Giant viruses are longer than half a micron (a thousandth of a millimetre) which is considered to be big for viruses.
Waking up viruses from the distant past can be seen as dangerous. Doesn’t the concept remind one of sci-fi stories of how whole populations are ‘accidentally’ destroyed by biological weapons? However, the scientists have reassured the world that they will only revive the virus if they are absolutely sure that it will not pose a threat to life.
“The fact that two different viruses retain their infectivity in prehistorical permafrost layers should be of concern in a context of global warming,” write the scientists.
Now, this brings another issue to mind. With the current trend of global warming, what if we reach a point where frozen viruses thaw, releasing dangerous toxins in the world? Furthermore, the possibility of mining companies that seek to explore territories covered in ice to look for mineral deposits inadvertently releasing pathogenic virus cannot be ignored either.
“A few viral particles that are still infectious may be enough, in the presence of a vulnerable host, to revive potentially pathogenic viruses,” said Jean-Michel Claverie, one of the researchers. “If we are not careful, and we industrialise 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.”