Scientists Awaken a Virus that Was Frozen for
    48,500 Years

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    A team led by scientists from the University of Aix-Marseille (France) has ‘revived’ a virus that was trapped for 48,500 years in the permafrost (frozen soil layer) of Siberia, Russia. According to the study, uploaded to the bioRxiv preprint platform, this pathogen is a Pandoravirus yedoma, a type of giant virus. It was found in a sample of permafrost at the bottom of a 16-meter-deep lake.

    This and 12 other viruses, extracted from other soil samples, mammoth and wolf carcasses thousands of years old, were taken to the laboratory, where, after being reactivated, they began to infect and replicate in amoebas, very old unicellular organisms that live in the ground surface and water. Since amoebas are eukaryotes, the cell type found in most species on Earth (including humans), scientists highlight the potential for these viruses to infect other life forms.

    In 2014, some members of this team awakened a 30,000-year-old virus found in the Siberian permafrost. Institutions from Russia and Germany also participated in the new research.

    The viruses they have just isolated are 27,000 years old or more. Meanwhile, the 48,500-year-old is the oldest awakened so far. The authors clarify that their study seeks to understand the potential threats lurking on the Earth’s surface, since a myriad of ancient frozen microbes (bacteria, viruses, archaea, etc.) may be being released due to global warming. In this sense, they suggest that the investigation in this regard be intensified. “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,” they wrote in their article. “There is no equivalent to ‘broad-spectrum antibiotics’ against viruses due to the lack of universally conserved pharmacological processes in the different viral families. Therefore, it is legitimate to reflect on the risk that the old viral particles remain infectious and re-circulate through the thawing of the old permafrost layers”, they added.

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