Scientists have revived a number of ancient viruses that have been locked away deep in the Siberian permafrost since the Ice Age.
While the search is considered risky, according to the team, it poses a noteworthy threat given the growing dangers of melting permafrost and climate change.
In a new paper that has not yet been peer-reviewed, the researchers describe how they identified and reanimated 13 viruses from five different clades from samples collected in Russia’s icy Far East.
Among the catches, as cited by IFL Science, they managed to revive the virus from permafrost samples that are around 48,500 years old.
They also revived three new viruses from samples of 27,000-year-old frozen mammoth or elephant dung and a patch of permafrost filled with large amounts of mammoth wool. These three specimens have been called mammoth Pithovirus, mammoth Pandoravirus and mammoth Megavirus.
Two new viruses were subsequently isolated from the frozen stomach contents of the Siberian wolf (Canis lupus) named Pacmanvirus lupus and Pandoravirus lupus.
This virus infects an amoeba, a single-celled blob that lives in soil and water. But experiments show that the virus still has the potential to be an infectious pathogen. The team introduced the viruses into cultures of live amoebae and the results showed that they were still able to invade cells and replicate.
The project comes from a team of researchers at the University of Aix-Marseille in France who previously revived a 30,000-year-old virus found in Siberian permafrost in 2014.
With the latest pool of viruses, including one dating back 48,500 years, researchers may have revived the oldest viruses.
“48,500 years is a world record,” said Jean-Michel Claverie, one of the authors of the paper and a professor of genomics and bioinformatics at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Aix-Marseille.
In their paper, the researchers explain that there is still much work that needs to be focused on viruses that infect eukaryotes (organisms with cells that have a nucleus and other membrane-bound organelles). They note that very little research has been published on this topic.
They explained that rising temperatures due to climate change are likely to revive many microbial threats, including past pathogenic viruses.
“Unfortunately, well documented by recent (and ongoing) pandemics, any new virus, even one related to a known virus family, almost invariably requires the development of a very specific medical response, such as a new antiviral or vaccine,” the researchers said. scientists. writer.
“There is no equivalent of a ‘broad-spectrum antibiotic’ against viruses, due to the lack of dopable processes between different virus families. It is therefore important to reflect on the risk that ancient virus particles remain infectious and recirculate by dissolving ancient layers of permafrost,” they added.