Scientists have resurrected many “zombie viruses” that have been trapped in Siberia’s permafrost for thousands of years – including one that is nearly 50,000 years old.
The 13 new viruses were identified by scientists studying permafrost samples collected from Russian provinces.
One of the viruses is still infectious after more than 48,500 years deep in permafrost, according to research led by microbiologist Jean-Marie Alempic of the French National Center for Scientific Research.
The virus, known as Pandoravirus, only infects single-celled organisms and poses no threat to humans.
The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, notes that so far there has been limited research into “live” viruses found in permafrost.
This “falsely implies that such cases are rare and that ‘zombies’ are not a public health threat,” the authors said.
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The team at the French National Center for Scientific Research said further work was needed to assess what dangers virus risks in permafrost might pose as climate change melts frozen landscapes.
“A quarter of the land in the northern hemisphere is covered by permafrost, known as permafrost,” the study reads.
“As the climate warms, the irreversible melting of permafrost releases organic matter that has been frozen for up to a million years, much of it decomposing into carbon dioxide and methane, further exacerbating the greenhouse effect.
“Part of this organism also includes resurrected cellular microbes and viruses that have been dormant since prehistoric times.”