Scientists revive ‘zombie viruses’ from permafrost that can infect cells


New research from a group of international climate scientists shows that so-called “zombie viruses” can infect amoeba cells, once revived.

Study published in Open Journal Virusobserved more than a dozen new viruses isolated from seven permafrost samples from ancient Siberia.

The research built on previous studies from the past decade that showed a virus — in some cases thousands of years old — can be contagious once revived.

Researchers from France, Russia and Germany discovered through radiocarbon dating of permafrost that the viruses were dormant between 27,000 and 48,500 years ago.

Permafrost is a frozen layer of soil widely found below ground and sea level, especially in areas where The temperature rarely rises above freezing. It is estimated that about a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere is covered by permafrost.

Viruses are thousands of years old.

Research has shown permafrost to be an excellent preservative. But scientists worry that as the planet slowly warms and the permafrost melts, viruses capable of infecting humans will emerge.

The researchers noted, “This rapid permafrost thaw causes the mobilization of ancient organic matter preserved for thousands of years in deep permafrost layers, a phenomenon that is most visible in Siberia, where deep continuous permafrost north bring down most of the eastern regions,” the researchers noted.

A photo taken on August 24, 2021 shows a pond at Stordalen Mair, near the village of Abisko in Norrbotten County, Sweden, an area where climate change impacts are studied by researchers studying permafrost.
Viruses were discovered through carbon dating.
By Jonathan Nekstrand/AFP Getty Images

Another consequence of melting permafrost, the researchers added, would be the release of organic matter frozen for a million years, much of which decomposes into carbon dioxide and methane, further increasing the greenhouse gas effect.

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