A virus locked in permafrost for the last 30,000 years was revived and replicated, Al Jazeera, AFP, and the LA Times report.
The study’s lead author told The Los Angeles Times that the discovery proves “that we could eventually resurrect active infectious viruses from different periods.”
“We know that those nondangerous viruses are alive there, which probably is telling us that the dangerous kind that may infect humans and animals — that we think were eradicated from the surface of earth — are actually still present and eventually viable, in the ground,” said microbiologist Jean-Michel Claverie of Aix-Marseille University in France.
The work detailed in the article shows that viruses can survive being locked up in the permafrost for extremely long periods, according to a statement released by France's National Center for Scientific Research.
We would like to think that this is the work of science fiction horror, but this is not. The danger is, if we unlock these viruses through a combination of drilling and climate change, then we could revive numerous diseases long though to be eradicated, such as Smallpox or Polio. And more chilling, we could wind up reviving unknown viruses that we have no known vaccination or cure for. These are the sorts of implications and risks that we have to take into consideration before opening up any Arctic fields for drilling.
This giant virus, named Pithovirus sibericum, was isolated from a >30,000-y-old radiocarbon-dated sample when we initiated a survey of the virome of Siberian permafrost. The revival of such an ancestral amoeba-infecting virus used as a safe indicator of the possible presence of pathogenic DNA viruses, suggests that the thawing of permafrost either from global warming or industrial exploitation of circumpolar regions might not be exempt from future threats to human or animal health.In other words, we can't afford the risk of reviving diseases that were long thought to be eradicated or diseases we haven't even identified yet just for the sake of extending the Oil Age another few generations or so. At some point, we will have to make the switch to a zero-carbon world. And the sooner we can do that, the better for our planet.
The LA Times notes that the polar region is warming at a rate more rapidly than the rest of the world.
With climate change making northern reaches more accessible, the chance of disturbing dormant human pathogens increases, the researchers concluded. Average surface temperatures in the area that contained the virus have increased more steeply than in more temperate latitudes, the researchers noted.Which could mean the revival of the Smallpox Virus:
“People will go there; they will settle there, and they will start mining and drilling,” Claverie said. “Human activities are going to perturb layers that have been dormant for 3 million years and may contain viruses.”
Those samples could harbor ancient forms of relatively modern human pathogens, including smallpox, which was rampant in Siberia. Fragments of a smallpox virus, for example, have been identified in Siberian mummies dating from the late 17th century.NASA reports that there has been a rapid 25-year warming trend in the Arctic.
“I would not be surprised that those viruses are still in the ground,” Claverie said.
The rapid warming trend in the Arctic over the last 25 years has dramatically reduced the region’s sea ice extent. Comparing this more recent trend with long-term data, scientists are trying to determine to whether this 25-year warming trend will continue, or is part of a longer-term cycle of ups and downs.And this research says nothing about what might be in store if and when Antarctica warms up like this.