30K-year-old megavirus unearthed by drilling in Siberia

30K-year-old megavirus unearthed by drilling in Siberia

[Ed. – No, not a made-for-SyFy movie plot.  And yes, there’s a global-warming tie-in.]

A 30,000-year-old giant virus has been revived from the frozen Siberian tundra, sparking concern that increased mining and oil drilling in rapidly warming northern latitudes could disturb dormant microbial life that could one day prove harmful to man.

The latest find, described online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, appears to belong to a new family of mega-viruses that infect only amoeba. But its revival in a laboratory stands as “a proof of principle that we could eventually resurrect active infectious viruses from different periods,” said the study’s lead author, microbiologist Jean-Michel Claverie of Aix-Marseille University in France. …

With climate change making northern reaches more accessible, the chance of disturbing dormant human pathogens increases, the researchers concluded. Average surface temperatures in the area that contained the virus have increased more steeply than in more temperate latitudes, the researchers noted.

“People will go there; they will settle there, and they will start mining and drilling,” Claverie said. “Human activities are going to perturb layers that have been dormant for 3 million years and may contain viruses.”

Claverie’s co-author, Chantal Abergel, nonetheless cautioned that their finding is limited to one innocuous virus infecting an amoeba.“We cannot definitely say that there are some human pathogens in there,” she said.


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