What has been described as a “giant mystery virus” has been discovered in a largely desolate region of Siberia. The virus is thought to have been buried in Siberian permafrost untouched for over 30,000 years.
The term “giant virus” is used to describe those ancient viruses that are as large as bacteria and also much much larger than the viruses typically seen today. There is also some debate as to whether or not these giant viruses could be considered a form of life.
There doesn’t seem to be anything to fear from this particular virus as researchers determined it only infects single-celled organisms. It also bears no resemblance to the sort of viruses known to be dangerous to human beings.
Even so, the unearthing of this virus is startling to scientists. Global warming is largely to blame for the discovery, as it’s likely the ancient virus would have otherwise remain untouched.
As temperatures climb and explorers are able to reach previously inaccessible regions, there is a fear that the next ancient virus to be discovered will be a devastating one.
Call me crazy, but defrosting an ancient Ice Age virus seems like a bad idea to me… http://t.co/o2I5riedG0
— Duane Von Doom (@DPzzle) March 4, 2014
Ancient "Giant Virus" Revived From Siberian Permafrost http://t.co/2WdqiRCPYU « I'm sure this will end well…
— Phil Schoen (@PhilSchoen) March 4, 2014
Such feared viruses include strands of smallpox from thousands of years ago or even viruses that plagued the Neanderthals.
Jean-Michel Claverie, a bioinformatics researcher at Aix-Marseille University in France, shared one major reason to be concerned about the return of these ancient viruses. In an email to LiveScience Claverie warned, “If they have been extinct for a long time, then our immune system is no longer prepared to respond to them.”
Current research suggests that if such dangerous giant viruses were to be awakened, it will likely come from an area of the Arctic. One reason for this is that oil companies are drilling in previously undisturbed areas of frozen locations around the world in a desperate search for new sources of oil.
Scientists fear that if these companies are not careful, they may bring more than oil to the Earth’s surface.
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