Virus inactive for >30,000 years – revived in a laboratory in France
An ancient virus has “come back to life” after lying dormant for at least 30,000 years, scientists say…It was found frozen in a deep layer of the Siberian permafrost, but after it thawed it became infectious once again.
The French scientists say the contagion poses no danger to humans or animals, but other viruses could be unleashed as the ground becomes exposed…
Professor Jean-Michel Claverie, from the National Centre of Scientific Research (CNRS) at the University of Aix-Marseille in France, said: “This is the first time we’ve seen a virus that’s still infectious after this length of time.”
The ancient pathogen was discovered buried 30m down in the frozen ground…Called Pithovirus sibericum, it belongs to a class of giant viruses that were discovered 10 years ago.
These are all so large that, unlike other viruses, they can be seen under a microscope. And this one, measuring 1.5 micrometres in length, is the biggest that has ever been found.
The last time it infected anything was more than 30,000 years ago, but in the laboratory it has sprung to life once again…Tests show that it attacks amoebas, which are single-celled organisms, but does not infect humans or other animals…
However, the researchers believe that other more deadly pathogens could be locked in Siberia’s permafrost.
The researchers say this region is under threat. Since the 1970s, the permafrost has retreated and reduced in thickness, and climate change projections suggest it will decrease further…
Prof Claverie warns that exposing the deep layers could expose new viral threats.
He said: “It is a recipe for disaster. If you start having industrial explorations, people will start to move around the deep permafrost layers. Through mining and drilling, those old layers will be penetrated and this is where the danger is coming from…”
Professor Jonathan Ball said…”We freeze viruses in the laboratory to preserve them for the future. If they have a lipid envelope – like flu or HIV, for example – then they are a bit more fragile, but the viruses with an external protein shell – like foot and mouth and common cold viruses – survive better.
“But it’s the freezing-thawing that poses the problems, because as the ice forms then melts there’s a physical damaging effect. If they do survive this, then they need to find a host to infect and they need to find them pretty fast.”
I nominate J.J.Abrams to make the movie…