A giant virus was found to have survived for 30,000 years in the remote frozen soil of Siberia. Collaborating scientist from french and Russian institutes were surveying a remote region in the Chukotka Autonomous region; the most north-eastern region of Russia, when they found frozen in a layer of permafrost a new kind of giant virus.
The giant virus has been named the Pithovirus Sibericum and has established a third family of giant virus. Before the discovery scientist were only aware of two families of giant viruses, Megaviridae and Pandoraviridae. This discovery of a completely new kind of giant virus as stated by France’s National Center for Scientific Research, C.N.R.S, shows that our “understanding of microscopic biodiversity is incomplete,” The reemergence of an ancient unknown virus has raised concerns among researchers who published the findings. Co-author of the study Jean-Michel Claverie stated the discovery as “An indication that viruses pathogenic to human and animals might also have been preserved…including some that have caused pandemics in the past.”
Although the Pithovirus has been found to only infect amoebas, being completely harmless to animals and humans. The reemergence of an ancient and entirely unknown virus alludes to the microscopic dangers that have afflicted the life on earth since the dawn of time. The reemergence of an unknown strain of virus that could potentially cause a world-wide epidemic is “no longer the domain of science fiction” C.N.R.S. stated. The newly found giant virus is said to have a similar replication process to that of smallpox. Thankfully, smallpox has since been virtually eradicated from the world due to vaccination programs.
The last reported case of smallpox in the United States was back in 1949 with the last naturally occurring case in Somalia in 1977. Routine vaccination of smallpox to the general public has since stopped because it is no longer necessary for prevention. Some have feared the possibility of smallpox being used as a biological weapon. For this reason the U.S. government has laid out precautions for dealing with a new outbreak of the disease.
Giant viruses are named so because they are both larger in size and contain far more genes than the average virus. AIDS and influenza contain about 10 genes, while the Pithovirus has about 500 genes. These are dwarfed by The Pandoraviridae, which contains about 2,500 genes. The collaborating researchers published their findings in the U.S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Journal, March 3rd.
With the heated topics of climate change and the proposed melting of prehistoric glaciers. The possibility of an ancient, unknown virus, reemerging is being given more serious thought in the scientific community thanks to the discovery of this giant virus. Although the chances are rare, the dangers of a viral pandemic have always been known. Many viruses have plagued humanity throughout history: measles, tuberculosis, yellow fever and many more. History is riddled with various viral outbreaks that have swept thought and devastated the human population. These viral outbreaks serve as a sobering reminder that the greatest threat to face humanity, might be just under a thin layer of frozen ice.
By Eric Ohm