S C I E N C E
Melting Permafrost Is Reviving Ancient Viruses Like The 48,500 Year Old Pandoraviruses
Researchers warn that melting permafrost due to climate change may awaken “zombie” viruses.
What are Pandoraviruses?
Pandoraviruses are the most recently discovered family of giant viruses, first discovered in 2013. They have a much larger genome than even some bacteria and have genetic components similar to those seen in amoebae and other organisms.
Pandoraviruses can cause infections in previously unsusceptible hosts, including humans, and their wide range of genetic components makes them one of the most diverse types of viruses.
With the thawing of melting permafrost in Siberia and other regions of the world, new pandoraviruses have been discovered in samples taken from these locations.
These viruses are extremely resilient due to their large genomes, which are able to survive harsh environmental conditions like those found in permafrost, such as low temperatures and lack of oxygen.
It is still unknown what effect these pathogens will have on us and the environment once they emerge from the permafrost, making it important for researchers to continue to study these virulent organisms.
How Have They Been Discovered in Permafrost?
Scientists studying permafrost in Siberia have recently discovered these ancient pandoraviruses, which have been dormant for tens of thousands of years.
They believe that with melting permafrost due to climate change, there is an increasing risk of reactivating these ancient viruses which could cause infections in living organisms and potentially infect people.
These pandoraviruses were found frozen in the permafrost layers of Siberia. Scientists speculate that these viruses have been dormant and conserved in the permafrost for over 30,000 years, which is why they remain intact despite the extreme weather conditions in Siberia.
By studying pandoraviruse’s DNA strands and protein coat, scientists were able to recreate their structure and decode how they had been preserved over thousands of years. With melting permafrost due to climate change, these ancient organisms could escape their icy confines and cause widespread infections among living organisms on Earth.
Thus, it is important for us to understand more about these viruses—including what risks they pose—before they cause long-term damage.
Why Are These Viruses a Potential Health Risk?
These ancient pandoraviruses have unknown genetic makeup, and could potentially be harmful to living organisms.
We don’t yet have the technology to effectively measure or understand the risks posed by these viruses, so it’s important to take all necessary precautions when handling or examining any materials related to permafrost.
In addition, understanding the precise risks of melting permafrost should be a priority in order to ensure public health and safety.
Many of the living organisms in melting permafrost are ancient, long-dormant microorganisms.
As the permafrost melts, it releases these microorganisms into our environment. Unfortunately, along with those dormant beneficial microbes come potentially dangerous viruses.
These pandoraviruses were found to have hundreds of genes that researchers had never seen before and could not place in known virus families.
As such, any potential risks posed by these unfamiliar viruses need to be studied extensively before any contact is made with them.
How Can Science Prepare For the Reawakening of Such Ancient Diseases?
The risk posed by these ancient viruses is heightened because little is known about them.
In order to prepare for the reawakening of ancient diseases, scientists need to build on our current knowledge and try to understand more about the pandoraviruses.
Researchers have identified three potential ways to do this: exploring more samples of ancient permafrost sediment using laboratories and imaging techniques; applying mathematical models and computer simulations to gain a better understanding of virus behavior across different temperatures, climates, and species; and creating tools that allow us to monitor these viruses in the environment.
Ultimately, with further research and development we can develop effective strategies to best protect humans from threats like the pandoraviruses.
Permafrost is a layer of permanently frozen soil in the Arctic. As it starts to thaw due to global warming, long-forgotten diseases that have been frozen since before recorded history are beginning to become active again.
In 2013, scientists discovered a family of mysterious viruses known as pandoraviruses in permafrost sediment in Siberia, prompting concerns about what further pathogens may be revived from the melting ice.
The risk posed by these ancient viruses is heightened because little is known about them, making it difficult for scientists and health professionals to anticipate their behavior and prepare for potential outbreaks.
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