What is the 50,000-year-old ‘Zombie Virus’ unearthed in Siberia?

Pathogens were discovered deep in the Siberian permafrost (PA).

Pathogens were discovered deep in the Siberian permafrost (PA).

As global warming takes its toll, large areas of permafrost are melting, releasing material that has been trapped for thousands of years.

This material contains microbes that have been dormant for hundreds of thousands of years.

To study the resulting microbes, scientists reconstructed a series of “zombie viruses” released from Siberia’s permafrost, including one thought to be 50,000 years old.

The outbreak killed at least 66 people, but Soviet officials denied that the incident ever happened.

The team behind the discovery, led by microbiologist Jean-Marie Alempic of the French National Center for Scientific Research, says these virulent viruses potentially pose a significant threat to public health.

However, Russian researchers are now deliberately exposing the bodies of long-dead woolly mammoths in an attempt to “reawaken” these Stone Age viruses.

According to the Daily Mail, a project called Colossal was launched last year that aims to change the genetic code of the Asian elephant, the mammoth’s closest living relative, to create a hybrid animal that can survive in the Arctic Circle.

This latest project, led by the Russian State Research Center for Virology and Biotechnology, known as Vector, aims to extract cellular material containing viruses that kill frozen animals and return it to the laboratory for experimentation. This caused concern among experts.

So what is the 50,000-year-old zombie virus unearthed in Siberia?

What is the 50,000-year-old zombie virus unearthed in Siberia?

In an eerie echo of Fortitude, the drama series about the resurgence of a deadly virus from frozen soil, more than a dozen prehistoric viruses have been discovered previously trapped in the frozen soil of Siberia.

From seven ancient permafrost samples, the scientists were able to document 13 never-before-seen viruses that had been dormant in ice for thousands of years.

In 2014, the same researchers uncovered a 30,000-year-old virus trapped in permafrost, the BBC reported.

The discovery was groundbreaking, as it could still infect other organisms.

But now they’ve broken their own record with this 48,500-year-old virus.

The 48,500-year-old amoeba virus is one of 13 viruses summarized in a new study, and nine of these are thought to be tens of thousands of years old.

The researchers found that each of them differed from all other known viruses in terms of their genomes.

While the record-breaking virus was found under a lake, other extraction sites included mammoth wool and the guts of a Siberian wolf—all buried beneath the permafrost.

Using live cultures of single-cell amoeba, the team proved that viruses still have the potential to become infectious pathogens.

“The situation would be much more disastrous in the case of plant, animal, or human diseases caused by the resurgence of an ancient unknown virus,” the researchers wrote.

“It is therefore legitimate to consider the risk of ancient viral particles remaining infectious and recirculating as ancient permafrost layers thawed.”

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