French researchers have discovered Mollivirus sibericum in the permafrost of northeastern Russia. It is the fourth type of pre-historic virus found since 2003. Scientists said, "We will reanimate a 30,000-year-old giant virus unearthed in the frozen wastelands of Siberia. Climate change may awaken dangerous microscopic pathogens."
Before waking it up, the research team will have to verify that the bug cannot cause animal or human disease. Climate change is warming up the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions at more than twice the global average, which means that permafrost will not be so permanent any more.
AdvertisementOne of the lead researchers, Jean-Michel Claverie, said, "A few viral particles that are still infectious may be enough, in the presence of a vulnerable host, to revive potentially pathogenic viruses. The regions in which these giant microbes have been found are coveted for their mineral resources, especially oil, and will become increasingly accessible for industrial exploitation as more of the ice melts away. If we are not careful, and we industrialize these areas without putting safeguards in place, we run the risk of one day waking up viruses such as small pox that we thought were eradicated."
In safe laboratory conditions, Claverie and his team will attempt to revive this newly discovered virus by placing it with single-cell amoeba, which will serve as its host. Unlike most viruses circulating today, these ancient specimens dating from the last Ice Age are not only bigger, but far more complex genetically.
M. sibericum has more than 500 genes. In contrast, the Influenza A virus has eight genes.