Scientists warn irreversible thawing of permafrost due to climate change may lead to new public health risks as dormant viruses get exposed
A group of researchers from three countries- France, Russia, and Germany – have uncovered 13 new “zombie viruses” isolated from seven different ancient Siberian permafrost samples.
Among these, one virus had been dormant and frozen underwater for nearly 50,000 years.
Scientists have also warned that the irreversible thawing of permafrost due to climate change could lead to a new public health threat as dormant virus species get exposed.
In an article posted to the preprint repository bioRxiv –the authors found that the pathogens “remain infectious after tens of thousands of years”.
As every virus requires the development of a specific vaccine, antiviral or medical response, the paper said, it is legitimate to ponder the risk of ancient viral particles remaining infectious and getting back into circulation by the thawing of ancient permafrost layers.
The scientists in the article have further said that the biological hazard associated with reviving prehistorical amoeba-infecting viruses is “totally negligible” compared to the search for “paleoviruses” directly from permafrost-preserved remains of mammoths, woolly rhinoceros, or prehistoric horses.
“How long these viruses could remain infectious once exposed to outdoor conditions (UV light, oxygen, heat), and how likely they will be to encounter and infect a suitable host in the interval, is yet impossible to estimate. But the risk is bound to increase in the context of global warming when permafrost thawing will keep accelerating, and more people will be populating the Arctic in the wake of industrial ventures,” the group said.
Scientists have long warned that thawing permafrost will further contribute to the greenhouse effect.