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posted by janrinok on Monday September 14 2015, @08:08PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the well-the-movies-always-said-it-would-happen dept.

An ancient virus has "come back to life" after lying dormant for at least 30,000 years, scientists say.

It was found frozen in a deep layer of the Siberian permafrost, but after it thawed it became infectious once again. The French scientists say the contagion poses no danger to humans or animals, but other viruses could be unleashed as the ground becomes exposed.

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Professor Jean-Michel Claverie, from the National Centre of Scientific Research (CNRS) at the University of Aix-Marseille in France, said: "This is the first time we've seen a virus that's still infectious after this length of time."

The ancient pathogen was discovered buried 30m (100ft) down in the frozen ground. Called Pithovirus sibericum, it belongs to a class of giant viruses that were discovered 10 years ago. These are all so large that, unlike other viruses, they can be seen under a microscope. And this one, measuring 1.5 micrometres in length, is the biggest that has ever been found. The last time it infected anything was more than 30,000 years ago, but in the laboratory it has sprung to life once again.

Tests show that it attacks amoebas, which are single-celled organisms, but does not infect humans or other animals.

Co-author Dr Chantal Abergel, also from the CNRS, said: "It comes into the cell, multiplies and finally kills the cell. It is able to kill the amoeba - but it won't infect a human cell."

However, the researchers believe that other more deadly pathogens could be locked in Siberia's permafrost. "We are addressing this issue by sequencing the DNA that is present in those layers," said Dr Abergel. "This would be the best way to work out what is dangerous in there."

The researchers say this region is under threat. Since the 1970s, the permafrost has retreated and reduced in thickness, and climate change projections suggest it will decrease further. It has also become more accessible, and is being eyed for its natural resources.

Prof Claverie warns that exposing the deep layers could expose new viral threats.

He said: "It is a recipe for disaster. If you start having industrial explorations, people will start to move around the deep permafrost layers. Through mining and drilling, those old layers will be penetrated and this is where the danger is coming from."

He told BBC News that ancient strains of the smallpox virus, which was declared eradicated 30 years ago, could pose a risk. "If it is true that these viruses survive in the same way those amoeba viruses survive, then smallpox is not eradicated from the planet - only the surface," he said.


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  • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Monday September 14 2015, @08:12PM

    by bob_super (1357) on Monday September 14 2015, @08:12PM (#236412)

    I'm glad we eradicated the woolly mammoth and are working on the polar bear. They were going to bring these ancient permafrost viruses close to humans.

  • (Score: 3, Funny) by krishnoid on Monday September 14 2015, @08:33PM

    by krishnoid (1156) on Monday September 14 2015, @08:33PM (#236420)

    It's pretty old, but very engaging [youtube.com].

  • (Score: -1, Offtopic) by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 14 2015, @08:35PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 14 2015, @08:35PM (#236421)

    i couldn't if i tried!

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 14 2015, @08:51PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 14 2015, @08:51PM (#236424)

    He reflected as they burned the last few acres of farm lands left in north America...

    Also, one for the suggestion box, we should mandate every new life form submission discovery to provide with two key figures: What does it tastes like and How fast can we grow it.

  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by VLM on Monday September 14 2015, @09:08PM

    by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Monday September 14 2015, @09:08PM (#236434)

    We've got plenty of permafrost in Alaska and Canada so they're just going for the "oooh scary russians" angle or "far away can't happen here" angle.

    The primary model for "global warming causes archaeological extinctions" revolves around climate affecting food supplies but it would be funny if it all turns out to be defrosted viruses. Then again I don't think there's a heck of a lot of evidence of this historically or archeologically.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 14 2015, @09:13PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 14 2015, @09:13PM (#236439)

      May as well just call it "alien nanotechnology" to make it more exciting.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 14 2015, @09:13PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 14 2015, @09:13PM (#236438)

    Sounds like the first couple of seasons of ReGenesis. [imdb.com]

  • (Score: 4, Informative) by MichaelDavidCrawford on Monday September 14 2015, @09:18PM

    by MichaelDavidCrawford (2339) Subscriber Badge <mdcrawford@gmail.com> on Monday September 14 2015, @09:18PM (#236442) Homepage Journal

    just about anything that rots produces lots of methane. Consider that dead, rotten critters trapped under the permafrost have permeated it with methane. As the permafrost thaws that methane is released into the atmosphere.

    Methane is a far, far worse greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide. It has to do with the number of rotational and vibrational degrees of freedom of the molecule. Argon is a greenhouse gas in a sense but a very poor one; diatomic nitrogen and oxygen somewhat better, water vapour and carbon dioxide are very strong greenhouse gases, methane very, very bad.

    Water vapor would be more of a problem were there not an upper limit as to how much of it can be in the atmosphere.

    --
    Yes I Have No Bananas. [gofundme.com]
  • (Score: 4, Funny) by wonkey_monkey on Monday September 14 2015, @09:29PM

    by wonkey_monkey (279) on Monday September 14 2015, @09:29PM (#236447) Homepage

    ...can't think of a good punchline.

    --
    systemd is Roko's Basilisk
  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by RedBear on Monday September 14 2015, @09:48PM

    by RedBear (1734) Subscriber Badge on Monday September 14 2015, @09:48PM (#236453)

    We like to think we are the rulers of this planet, but in reality it has always belonged entirely to the billions of forms of microscopic life that originally thrived here for hundreds of millions of years before the first multi-cellular life ever appeared. In our ignorance and inability to directly perceive microscopic life we look around and think, "Oh, there's nothing here but a few animals and plants." But microbiota are literally everywhere, from just above the upper layers of magma in the lowest layers of the crust and the deepest parts of the ocean, to the outer reaches of the atmosphere and beyond, and of course everywhere you look inside our own bodies. We depend on them for our very existence. Not even the insect kingdom has true ownership of this world (sorry, entomologists).

    With microscopic life's ability to self-replicate, it contaminates this world more persistently and more permanently than any chemical or radioactive contamination ever could. Even if we could decontaminate the world of all microscopic life, we'd just end up killing ourselves since all higher-order life depends upon the microbiome in literally endless different ways. The fact that any of us macro life forms are even able to exist successfully on the same planet as the septillions of microorganisms is a straight-up miracle. The ability of microbiota to persist and survive in every microscopic nook and cranny is why I always have to facepalm every time someone thinks we can stop vaccinating for some disease like polio or smallpox just because for the briefest instant of geological time it has been, quote, "effectively eradicated". Until we can scan the entire planet instantaneously Star Trek style and somehow determine that there isn't a single polio virus left anywhere in existence, the idea that any disease has been "eradicated" is utter nonsense. You could "glass" the entire planet with nukes and ultimately fail to completely eradicate a single disease.

    Until we develop the ability to instill our offspring with permanent, built-in immunity to the diseases we currently vaccinate for, there will be no point in future history where it will really be safe to stop those vaccinations. Doing so would simply allow the next encounter with the virus to propagate through the population with impunity, possibly through a world with much higher population density where everyone has even forgotten what that disease is and how to deal with it. There was even an Asimov novel with this idea as the main plot line. Some Earth-based terrorists tried to send a bunch of relatively innocuous microorganisms to every off-Earth colony where the "Spacers" had foolishly decontaminated themselves and lost the ability to deal with those "innocuous" disease organisms. I've forgotten the title of this book or whether it was a novel or short story.

    All that being said, the immune systems of plants and other macro-life like mammals are pretty sophisticated and have been developing for hundreds of millions of years. While we may see some "new" diseases appear that have never been known to written human history, it's fairly unlikely that even being exposed to billions of old/new microorganisms that haven't been encountered for tens of thousands of years is going to be too much of a problem. For one thing, these old bacteria and viruses haven't had any time to adapt to even antibiotics as old as penicillin. Of course it must be acknowledged that antibiotics typically only work on bacterial infections, not viral.

    An interesting aspect of the mentioned virus is that it attacks amoebas, which are considered quite hardy and difficult to kill. If we figure out how it kills amoebas maybe we'd have a better chance of saving those kids who get amoebic infections in the brain from swimming in warm, muddy rivers.

    --
    ¯\_ʕ◔.◔ʔ_/¯ LOL. I dunno. I'm just a bear.
    ... Peace out. Got bear stuff to do. 彡ʕ⌐■.■ʔ
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 14 2015, @11:06PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 14 2015, @11:06PM (#236469)

      amoebic infections in the brain

      link:

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-33728104 [bbc.co.uk]

    • (Score: 2) by penguinoid on Monday September 14 2015, @11:44PM

      by penguinoid (5331) on Monday September 14 2015, @11:44PM (#236483)

      Another interesting thing about a giant virus attacking amoebas, is that amoebas are huge and also have a huge genome.

      --
      RIP Slashdot. Killed by greedy bastards.
      • (Score: 2) by Reziac on Tuesday September 15 2015, @02:13AM

        by Reziac (2489) on Tuesday September 15 2015, @02:13AM (#236519) Homepage

        This immediately makes me wonder if the virus itself has been incorporated into amoebas at some point.

  • (Score: 2) by PinkyGigglebrain on Tuesday September 15 2015, @12:22AM

    by PinkyGigglebrain (4458) on Tuesday September 15 2015, @12:22AM (#236495)

    Does anyone know if any of the single cell organisms in the Human gut are related to amoebae and might be susceptible to this virus?

    It might not be able to kill a Human cell but if it could be bad if it caused you guts micro-biom to get so far out of whack that it started producing toxins.

    Until they know I would hope they are treating this virus as a potentially dangerous pathogen.

    And one shudders to think what else might lie frozen in the permafrost.

    --
    "Beware those who would deny you Knowledge, For in their hearts they dream themselves your Master."
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 15 2015, @01:29AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 15 2015, @01:29AM (#236511)

      Until they know I would hope they are treating this virus as a potentially dangerous pathogen.

      The military is loving it. They are looking at possibilities of producing pathogens with abilities never seen before. Something even better than a programmable race-specific virus.

    • (Score: 2) by Reziac on Tuesday September 15 2015, @02:15AM

      by Reziac (2489) on Tuesday September 15 2015, @02:15AM (#236521) Homepage

      I had the opposite thought -- could this virus be used to kill amoeba infections in humans? It should be safe enough to try, if it only kills amoebas and doesn't infect humans (as stated above).

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 15 2015, @12:13PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 15 2015, @12:13PM (#236603)

      No, bacteria in the GI tract are not closely related enough to be susceptible to this virus.

      It is also very unlikely to remain infectious after being exposed to stomach acid or antimicrobial peptides.

  • (Score: 2) by drussell on Tuesday September 15 2015, @01:40AM

    by drussell (2678) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday September 15 2015, @01:40AM (#236516) Journal

    Star Trek: Voyager, Season 3, Episode 12....

    Now THAT'S a giant virus!

    :)

  • (Score: 1) by theronb on Tuesday September 15 2015, @04:54AM

    by theronb (2596) on Tuesday September 15 2015, @04:54AM (#236557)

    Anyone else get this vibe?

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by morgauxo on Tuesday September 15 2015, @01:00PM

    by morgauxo (2082) on Tuesday September 15 2015, @01:00PM (#236609)

    Prehistoric anything waking up and killing sounds like a tired old sci-fi/horror meme. Anything that old had it's day on Earth a long time ago. If today it's only found frozen in ancient ice or soil there must be a reason it no longer populates the surface. We probably already have good defenses inheritted from our ancient ancestors. Maybe somebody will dig something up that gives us the sniffles for a day or two. Viri of the future are scary, things from the past.. not so much.

  • (Score: 2) by The Archon V2.0 on Tuesday September 15 2015, @02:41PM

    by The Archon V2.0 (3887) on Tuesday September 15 2015, @02:41PM (#236632)

    Virus coming back because of melting? Isn't that exactly what kicks off the events of The Talos Principle?

  • (Score: 1) by khallow on Tuesday September 15 2015, @05:01PM

    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday September 15 2015, @05:01PM (#236663) Journal
    The first problem with this scenario is that humans aren't giant amoeba. Nor are they anything else that happens to live on or in permafrost. So anything evolved to infect whatever was there before, isn't going to be evolved to infect humans. Then there's the second problem, we don't live in these areas either. Whatever pathogen would then have to infect something that is close enough to humans both biologically and in physical proximity. It's not at all a serious concern.