30,000-Year-Old Jumbo Virus Reawakened By Scientists

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Bringing things back to life from a frozen state, à la Encino Man or The Thing, is the stuff of science fiction (or comedy). Yet, it has really happened.

At the very least, the living thing being brought back to life isn’t a caveman, wooly mammoth, or a shape-shifting alien. In fact, according to science terms, this being isn’t even completely alive. So what exactly did scientists decide to bring back into our lives? A virus.

French scientists have awakened a 30,000-year-old virus this week. The virus, previously frozen in the Siberian permafrost, is really, really huge. In fact, BBC News writes that it’s so enormous that it can be seen under a microscope, unlike other viruses. But, according to the scientists, the virus – named Pithovirus sibericum - isn’t anything we humans have to worry about. In the laboratory tests, the virus only attacks amoebas and doesn’t infect other animals and humans.

So we’ve got nothing to worry about. Or do we? Scientists state that even though this big virus poses no risk to us, the other viruses in the permafrost could. Researchers have said that since the 1970s, the permafrost’s thickness has decreased and the permafrost itself has retreated. Climate change isn’t helping matters. Even worse, the area is being looked at for a treasure trove of natural resources. However, Jean-Michel Claverie, professor from the National Centre of Scientific Research (CNRS) at the University of Aix-Marseilles told BBC News that further exposure of the permafrost layers could expose us to viral threats we aren’t prepared for.

“It is a recipe for disaster,” he said. “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.” Claverie goes on to say that the smallpox virus, which has been thought to be dead, could come back. “If it is true that these viruses survive in the same way those amoeba viruses survive, then smallpox is not eradicated from the planet – only the surface.” So, you know what that means. “By going deeper,” he said. “We may reactivate the possibility that smallpox could become again a disease of humans in modern times.”

Of course, it’s not exactly certain that all the viruses in the permafrost could be reactivated, but the threat is there.

Do you think we’ve got nothing to worry about? Or are you going to start building your virus bunker now? Write about it below!

Image: Julia Bartoli & Chantal Abergel, IGS, CNRS/AMU

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