Scientists want to resurrect a recently unearthed 30,000 year old virus found in the frozen tundra of Siberia. For years, Siberia has been a frozen wasteland, with its secrets waiting to be discovered. With recent shifts in the climate and global warming, the frozen wasteland is starting to thaw, as temperatures remain warmer for longer period of time in this region of the world. This is the fourth prehistoric virus to be discovered, and it would be the second one resurrected and studied in the past decade.
Scientists have termed the viruses being unearthed in the frozen tundra as “giant” viruses. This means they measure longer than half a micron and can be viewed using a light microscope. The recently discovered one has been given the name of “Mollivirus Sibericum,” which means “soft virus from Siberia.”
Before reanimating the virus, scientists intend to study it further to verify it will not pose any threat to humans or animals. The Pithovirus Sibericum was discovered in 2013 in the same location as the current giant virus. It was the first giant virus scientists were able to successfully resurrect by placing it in a petri dish along with a single-cell amoeba to act as the host of the virus.
Some people might wonder why scientists would try to resurrect a 30,000 year old virus. The main reason is to study it and gain a better understanding of prehistoric viruses. Of concern is the vast number of genes being discovered in prehistoric viruses, and their complexity compared to modern viruses, like Influenza A, which only has 8 genes. For instance, the recently discovered giant virus has over 500 different genes, and another one, discovered in 2003, called Pandoravirus, has over 2,500 genes.
As the permafrost and tundra in northern areas of the globe warm, access to precious resources, like oil and metals becomes possible. However, scientists warn there could be other giant viruses still dormant buried deep in the ground. They have no idea whether one of these giant viruses could pose risks for humans and animals if it is accidently unearthed and released into modern society. Due to the complexity of the giant viruses and numerous genes, there is no telling how the virus would react to antivirals or whether it would quickly adapt and mutate.
As the climate continues to change, and warming in the frozen areas of the world causes it to thaw, all it would take would be a few particles of an infectious virus to be reawakened with the right host, and, once awakened, the virus could turn into a pandemic of global proportions. As previously frozen areas are industrialized, scientists urge caution, and to research and study soil samples before undertaking major projects, to ensure the area is not hiding a deadly giant virus.
In the meantime, scientists will continue to study giant viruses in safe laboratory conditions to gain a better understanding of their origins and how they evolved, and to record their findings in laboratory notebooks in order to have a permanent, chronological record of all research. For additional information about research notebooks, feel free to contact Scientific Notebook Company at 800-537-3028.