From a horror movie plot to real life: Scientists have revived old “zombie” virus permafrost and found that they could still infect living single-celled amoebas.
The chances of these viruses infecting animals or humans are unclear, but the researchers say permafrost viruses should be considered a public health threat.
Permafrost is a layer of soil that remains completely frozen all year round – at least before human activities begin rising global temperatures. It covers 15% of the land in the northern hemisphere.
Due to climate changehowever, the permafrost is rapidly melting, unearthing a host of ancient relics ranging from viruses and bacteria to woolly mammoths and an impeccably clean environment. preserved cave bear.
According CNNFrench professor Jean-Michel Claverie found strains of frozen 48,000-year-old man virus of some permafrost sites in Siberia. The oldest strain, which was 48,500 years old, came from a soil sample from an underground lake, while the youngest samples were 27,000 years old.
One of the young specimens was discovered in the carcass of a woolly mammoth.
Some scientists fear that, as climate change is warming the arctic, melting permafrost could release ancient viruses that haven’t come into contact with living things for thousands of years. As such, plants, animals and humans might not be immune to them.
“You have to remember that our immune defense was developed in close contact with a microbiological environment,” Birgitta Evengård, professor emeritus in the Department of Clinical Microbiology at Umea University in Sweden, told CNN.
“If there’s a virus lurking in the permafrost that we haven’t come into contact with for thousands of years, maybe our immune defense isn’t strong enough,” he said. she adds.
“It’s okay to have respect for the situation and to be proactive and not just reactive. And the way to fight fear is to have knowledge.”
How ‘zombie’ viruses could infect hosts once they emerge
This is not the first time that Claverie ancient viruses resurrected, or “zombie viruses” as he calls them. He has been publishing research on this topic since 2014 and says that beyond his work, very few researchers take these viruses seriously.
“This erroneously suggests that such events are rare and that ‘zombie viruses’ are not a public health threat,” Claverie and colleagues report in their latest paper. published February 18 in the newspaper Virus.
In this study, Claverie and his team were able to revive several new strains of zombie viruses and found that each could still infect cultured amoebae — an achievement, Claverie said, that should be considered both a scientific curiosity and a serious threat to public health. .
“We consider these amoeba-infecting viruses to be surrogates for all other possible viruses that could be found in permafrost,” he told CNN. “We see the traces of many, many, many other viruses. So we know they are there. We don’t know for sure that they are still alive. But our reasoning is that if amoeba viruses are still alive, there’s no reason other viruses won’t still be alive and able to infect their own hosts.”
Current research into frozen viruses like Claverie’s zombie virus is helping scientists better understand how these ancient viruses work and whether or not they could infect animals or humans.
Ancient bacteria like anthrax may already be coming back alive
It’s not just viruses. Ancient bacteria could also be released and reactivated for the first time in up to two million years when permafrost thaws.
This is what happened, scientists think, when epidemics bacterial anthrax infection emerged in humans and reindeer in Siberia in 2016.
It may be a “more immediate public health concern,” according to at Calverie’s journal.
This article was originally published by Business Intern.
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