Frankenvirus – The resurgence of ancient viruses as a result of climate change
We know the many effects of climate change – rise of sea levels, warmer winters, drought and other extreme events. One unprecedented effect has pretty dire consequences for us, and that is the re-emergence of ancient viruses stuck beneath the permafrost of places like Siberia. These ancient microbes were stuck there since the last ice age.
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A giant virus that is long dormant known as Mollivirus sibericum has been revived after more than 30,000 years. While it isn’t harmful to humans, its survival beneath the permafrost gives rise to suggestions that many long-forgotten viruses are lying beneath in wait that is still unknown to us.
According to the researchers, their findings suggest that prehistory ‘live’ viruses are not rare happenings. “We cannot rule out that distant viruses of ancient Siberian human populations could re-emerge as Arctic permafrost layers’ melt and are disrupted by industrial activities.”
Fortunately, most unearthed ancient viruses are harmful only to other single-celled organisms. However, Professor Jean-Michel Claverie warned that some infectious particles can still lead to the “resurgence of potentially pathogenic viruses in Arctic regions” in the presence of a receptive and suitable host.
Said the professor: “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 smallpox that we thought were eradicated.”
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