Researchers* have brought thousands of years old viruses from the Siberian permafrost back to life. The oldest is estimated to be 48,500 years old; the “youngest” has 27,000 years under its belt. These “zombie viruses” remain dead in the ice but can be brought back to life as soon as they are thawed.
Oldest revived virus
With their discovery, the researchers* have set a record. Never before has a nearly 50,000-year-old frozen virus been revived to the point of becoming potentially infectious again. It has been christened Pandoravirus yedoma, after the permafrost soil found primarily in eastern Siberia but also in Alaska and northwestern Canada.
According to microbiologist Jean-Marie Alempic, who leads the team behind the work, such zombie viruses could pose a severe public health threat. “A quarter of the Northern Hemisphere is covered by permanently frozen ground,” the scientist says. “Due to climate warming, organic material up to a million years old is being released.” Among them could be countless viruses.
The virus genome is unique
The genome of the 50,000-year-old virus is also different from anything known from previous viruses, he says. In a pandemic with such a primordial virus, humanity could face serious problems – whether it affects plants, animals, or humans.
Unlike in other pandemics, no known related strands against which immunities have already been formed. Adaptation to the virus or developing drugs or vaccines is exceptionally costly.