Ancient ‘Zombie’ Virus Revived After Almost 50,000 Years: A Public Health Threat?

Sci­en­tists have made a chill­ing dis­cov­ery of ancient ‘zom­bie’ virus­es that have been revived from per­mafrost and found to be capa­ble of infect­ing liv­ing sin­gle-celled amoebae. 

While the like­li­hood of these virus­es infect­ing ani­mals or humans remains uncer­tain, the researchers have warned that per­mafrost virus­es should be con­sid­ered a poten­tial pub­lic health threat.

Per­mafrost is a frozen lay­er of soil that used to remain frozen year-round, cov­er­ing 15% of the land in the North­ern Hemi­sphere. How­ev­er, human activ­i­ties have caused glob­al tem­per­a­tures to rise, lead­ing to the rapid thaw­ing of permafrost. 

This has unearthed a range of ancient relics from virus­es and bac­te­ria to wool­ly mam­moths and even an impec­ca­bly pre­served cave bear.

As per CNN, French pro­fes­sor Jean-Michel Claver­ie dis­cov­ered strains of the 48,000-year-old frozen virus from a few per­mafrost sites in Siberia. 

The old­est strain, dat­ing back 48,500 years, came from a sam­ple of soil from an under­ground lake, while the youngest sam­ples were 27,000 years old. One of the younger sam­ples was dis­cov­ered in the car­cass of a wool­ly mammoth.

Some sci­en­tists have raised con­cerns that as cli­mate change con­tin­ues to warm the Arc­tic, thaw­ing per­mafrost could release ancient virus­es that have not been in con­tact with liv­ing things for thou­sands of years. This could pose a sig­nif­i­cant threat as plants, ani­mals, and humans might not have immu­ni­ty to these viruses.

Pro­fes­sor Bir­git­ta Evengård, pro­fes­sor emeri­ta at Umea Uni­ver­si­ty’s Depart­ment of Clin­i­cal Micro­bi­ol­o­gy in Swe­den, warned that our immune defense has been devel­oped in close con­tact with micro­bi­o­log­i­cal surroundings.

If a virus is hid­den in the per­mafrost that has not been in con­tact with liv­ing things for thou­sands of years, it might be that our immune defense is not suf­fi­cient. As such, it is cru­cial to be proac­tive and not just reac­tive to the situation.

The dis­cov­ery of these ancient virus­es high­lights the impor­tance of mon­i­tor­ing and under­stand­ing the impact of cli­mate change on our envi­ron­ment and pub­lic health. 

It is essen­tial to remain vig­i­lant and proac­tive in address­ing poten­tial pub­lic health threats, espe­cial­ly with the increas­ing risks posed by cli­mate change.

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