Scientists plan to reanimate a 30,000-year-old giant virus that has been found preserved in the frozen wastelands of Siberia, one of several pre-historic viruses to have been unearthed in the last 15 years. But while the researchers believe the finding will be of great scientific interest, they warned that the effects of climate change were likely to unearth more such microscopic pathogens, a reality which could pose an increased threat for the spread of disease.
Reporting this week in the flagship journal of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, French researchers announced the discovery of Mollivirus sibericum, the fourth type of pre-historic virus found since 2003 — and the second by this team.
Before waking it, researchers will have to verify that the bug cannot cause animal or human disease. “A few viral particles that are still infectious may be enough, in the presence of a vulnerable host, to revive potentially pathogenic viruses,” one of the lead researchers, Jean-Michel Claverie, told AFP.
To qualify as a “giant,” a virus has to be longer than half a micron, a thousandth of a millimeter or 0.00002 of an inch. Mollivirus sibericum — “soft virus from Siberia” — comes in at 0.6 microns, and was found in the permafrost of northeastern Russia.