An international team of experts has resurrected what they claim to be the oldest virus ever resurrected. The scientists revived a 48,500-year-old virus.
Scientists have cautioned that melting permafrost could endanger humanity after resurrecting an ancient pathogen that had been frozen for tens of thousands of years.
After observing nine ancient viruses that were found in the Siberian permafrost infecting amoebas in a lab, the international team concluded that such viruses are still capable of infecting living beings.
The team estimated that the oldest of the recently found viruses is close to 50,000 years old. “48,500 years is a world record,” Jean-Michel Claverie, a team member and a researcher at Aix-Marseille University in France, told the New Scientist. In its most recent research, his team examined a total of seven antiquated viruses. A preprint of the group’s work was released earlier in November.
The team, which consists of researchers from Germany, France, and Russia, has previously succeeded in reviving two other 30,000-year-old viruses. The viruses found and revived by the scientists are thought to be the most ancient ever revived, however other researchers claim to have revived bacteria that are up to 250 million years old.
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The pandoravirus type is a collection of enormous viruses that can only infect single-celled species like amoebas. All of the viruses that the team was able to resuscitate are of this kind. The reality that all nine archaic viruses could still infect living cells after tens of thousands of years in permafrost suggests that other viruses imprisoned there that are possibly contagious to plants, animals, or even people could be freed and rejuvenated as well, the scientists warn.
“There is a real danger,” Claverie said, adding that “there are bacteria and viruses coming out every day.” However, he stressed that it is currently hard to exactly quantify the level of potential hazard.
Russia has issued a warning over the potential threat brought on by the permafrost’s continued thawing as a result of climate change. Thawing soil that has been firmly frozen for years or millennia may still harbor “some viable spores of ‘zombie’ bacteria and viruses,” according to Nikolay Korchunov, a senior Russian official at the Arctic Council, in 2021.
Moscow has stated that it believes the threat is significant enough to begin a biosafety project and has invited all other Arctic Council nations to join it. In addition to Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Finland, and Sweden are members of the intergovernmental organization.