Paris (AFP) - Scientists said they will reanimate a 30,000-year-old giant virus unearthed in the frozen wastelands of Siberia, and warned climate change may awaken dangerous microscopic pathogens.
Reporting this week in the flagship journal of the US National Academy of Sciences, French researchers announced the discovery of Mollivirus sibericum, the fourth type of pre-historic virus found since 2003 -- and the second by this team.
Before waking it up, researchers will have to verify that the bug cannot cause animal or human disease.
To qualify as a "giant", a virus has to be longer than half a micron, a thousandth of a millimetre (0.00002 of an inch).
Mollivirus sibericum -- "soft virus from Siberia" -- comes in at 0.6 microns, and was found in the permafrost of northeastern Russia.
The regions in which these giant microbes have been found are coveted for their mineral resources, especially oil, and will become increasingly accessible for industrial exploitation as more of the ice melts away.
"If we are not careful, and we industrialise these areas without putting safeguards in place, we run the risk of one day waking up viruses such as small pox that we thought were eradicated," he added.
Unlike most viruses circulating today, and to the general astonishment of scientists, these ancient specimens dating from the last Ice Age are not only bigger, but far more complex genetically.
M. sibericum has more than 500 genes, while another family of giant virus discovered in 2003, Pandoravirus, has 2,500. The Influenza A virus, by contrast, has eight genes.
In 2004, US scientists resurrected the notorious "Spanish flu" virus, which killed tens of millions of people, in order to understand how the pathogen was extraordinarily so virulent.
More at the link: http://news.yahoo.com/frankenvirus-emerges-siberias-frozen-wasteland-142859117.html
Fascinating stuff, and I expect these sort of discoveries to become commonplace as the permafrost in Siberia and the Canadian tundra continue to dissipate due to climate change.