Scientists have revived eons old ‘zombie viruses’ from the Siberian permafrost and have admitted there is a risk that “ancient viral particles” will remain infectious and “get back into circulation.”
Out of the 13 new viruses that have been identified, the oldest is a 48,500-year-old amoeba virus, according to the findings posted by researchers in the pre-print server bioRxiv, who boasted that they broke a world record for oldest virus bought back to life.
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“48,500 years is a world record,” Jean-Michel Claverie, co-author and a professor of genomics and bioinformatics at Aix-Marseille University’s School of Medicine, told New Scientist.
The news that scientists are experimenting with ancient ‘zombie viruses’ recalls the controversy surrounding gain of function research – when viruses are purposefully manipulated to be more infectious or deadly – which is thought to be at the center of Covid’s origin. Last month US scientists used gain of function research to create a Covid strain with an 80% kill rate.
The scientists were condemned for ‘playing with fire’ after it emerged they had created the deadly new Covid strain. Professor Shmuel Shapira, a leading scientist in the Israeli Government, said: ‘This should be totally forbidden, it’s playing with fire.’
Why revive ‘zombie viruses’?
However, researchers experimenting with the ‘zombie viruses’ warn they are just getting started, adding that melting Siberian permafrost will enable scientists to revive more pathogens from the organic matter.
“One-quarter of the Northern Hemisphere is underlain by permanently frozen ground, referred to as permafrost,” researchers wrote in the paper. “Due to climate warming, irreversibly thawing permafrost is releasing organic matter frozen for up to a million years, most of which decomposes into carbon dioxide and methane, further enhancing the greenhouse effect.”
IBT report: In contrast to the record-breaking virus, Pandoravirus yedoma, which was found under a lake, three other viruses were collected from 27,000-year-old samples of mammoth poop and mammoth wool. Honoring their origin, the scientists named the viruses Pithovirus mammoth, Pandoravirus mammoth, and Megavirus mammoth.
At the same time, two other viruses were separately isolated from the stomach of a Siberian wolf (Canis lupus). They have been aptly named Pacmanvirus lupus and Pandoravirus lupus, as per IFLScience.
All 13 of the viruses were different from each other genetically, the study confirmed.
“As unfortunately well documented by recent (and ongoing) pandemics, each new virus, even related to known families, almost always requires the development of highly specific medical responses, such as new antivirals or vaccines,” authors of the study wrote. “It is therefore legitimate to ponder the risk of ancient viral particles remaining infectious and getting back into circulation by the thawing of ancient permafrost layers.”
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