Ancient ‘giant’ viruses from Siberia to be resurrected by French scientists


While we are unnerved by the vast expanses of the frozen wastelands of Siberia, there is more to these isolated regions than just their ominously frigid landscapes. We are talking the inconspicuous realms of tiny microbes and viruses that are spread across many a secluded space beyond human-inhabited areas. One of such microscopic organisms pertain to the Mollivirus sibericum, which is only the fourth type of prehistoric virus discovered since 2003. To that end, the discovered specimen is believed to be around 30,000 years old, and it actually qualifies as a ‘giant’ virus by virtue of its size being more than half a micron (one micron = a thousandth of a millimeter). And that’s not even the odd part. The group of French researchers who made the significant discovery, will try their best to resurrect this unearthed ancient microbe.

This certainly alludes to the baleful scenario of how some potentially dangerous pathogens that have long been forgotten, can be revived under specific conditions with the aid of a vulnerable host. This specially holds true in frigid areas affected by climate change and global warming – thus circumventing the natural ‘fail safe’ of permafrost, like in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. Now in this case, the scientists will of course make sure that the virus cannot cause any form of disease in either humans or animals, before it is reanimated in the lab with the help of a single-cell amoeba host.

As for other forms of biological predicaments, the researchers have noted how such prehistoric giant viruses have been unearthed in mineral-rich zones (that includes the prevalence of oil). So, as the ice thaws from the effect of climate change, such microbe-prone areas would be coveted by new industrial ventures – that might ultimately result in human intrusions in forms of facilities and settlements. So, simply put, the need (and greed) for resources might expose humans to long-dormant virus specimens, thus making a case for profusion of vulnerable hosts.

In other words, future industrial projects have to be careful enough before exploiting resource-rich lands, especially in areas that are acutely affected by climate change. What’s more, many of such ancient virus specimens were not only found to be ‘giants’ but also biologically complex, with the Mollivirus sibericum exhibiting more than 500 genes (while the Pandoravirus family discovered in 2003, had more than 2,500 genes). For comparison’s sake, the Influenza A virus has only 8 genes. This once again hints at the potentially greater adaptability of some of these dormant viruses, which surely doesn’t bode well for encroaching humans.


Credit: (c) 2015 PNAS

The study was originally published in the journal of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (of the United States of America).

Source: Phys

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