The melting Siberian permafrost has helped experts to witness a scientific breakthrough, namely the discovery of a new giant virus which has been dormant for over 30,000 years. French evolutionary biologists Jean-Michel Claverie and Chantal Abergel from the Aix-Marseille University stated that, as soon as they thwarted the virus, it became infectious once again. The scientists say that the new discovery does not pose any danger to animals or humans, but the climatic changes could unearth other viruses that could prove harmful for human health.
After experts revived a wild flower which dates back 13,000 years, another scientific breakthrough occurred in the melting Siberian permafrost, namely a new giant virus which was buried 30 meters down in the frozen ground. Called Pithovirus sibericum, it belongs to a class of massive viruses which were first discovered ten years ago, but this one is the biggest that has ever been found. It measures 1.5 micrometers in length and it can be seen under a microscope. Abergel stated that the newly discovered virus “comes into the cell, multiplies and finally kills the cell.”
Dangers Lurk in the Siberian Permafrost
The giant virus is the proof that the melting Siberian permafrost “could eventually resurrect active infectious viruses from different periods,” which means that all the viruses that are thought to be extinct could lurk under the not-so-thick layer of ice which has been maintaining them inactive for hundreds of thousands of years.
The climatic changes that make these secluded areas accessible could disturb dormant human pathogens and the scientific breakthrough that brought the melting Siberian permafrost to scientists’ attention, namely a new giant virus might prove dangerous for the human health and safety.
It is a recipe for disaster,” Claverie said.
The French professor added that industrial explorations will penetrate the layers and bring back to life viral threats. Irrespective of the viruses’ nature, if they can survive after they have been thawed, they must find a host to secure their existence.
However, the biologists who made the scientific breakthrough by “fishing” a new giant virus out of the melting Siberian permafrost stated that they are not trying to find and bring back to life viruses that might infect humans, but they will continue seeking genetic signatures of pathogens that could pose a threat to human health.
The scientists stated that what lies under the Siberian permafrost could be different kinds of bacteria or viruses, but the fact that the human immune system “is no longer prepared to respond to them,” since they have been extinct for hundreds of thousands of years means that a new threat has been discovered.
Although the team of scientists responsible for the discovery of the new giant virus assured the population that it poses no threat to human health, last year, Christelle Desnues, virologist at the French National Centre for Scientific Research in Marseilles discovered that a massive virus called Marseillevirus had infected a 11-month-old baby. Desnues stated that this case sheds light on the nature of viruses and, as harmless as they might seem, they “cannot be seen as stand-alone freaks of nature.”
The scientific breakthrough in the melting Siberian permafrost, namely a new giant virus joins the “wave” of revivals, which also contains a wild flower that vanished about 13,000 years ago; its fruits and seeds were preserved in the permafrost, so experts could revive the ancient plant. The French scientists who discovered the giant virus fear that other harmful viruses like the deadly smallpox could also be resurrected.
By Gabriela Motroc