By DAVID NIELD
As the world warms up, vast tranches of permafrost are melting, releasing material that’s been trapped in its icy grip for years. This includes a slew of microbes that have lain dormant for hundreds of millennia in some cases
To study the emerging microbes, scientists have now revived a number of these “zombie viruses” from Siberian permafrost, including one thought to be nearly 50,000 years old – a record age for a frozen virus returning to a state capable of infecting other organisms.
The team behind the work, led by microbiologist Jean-Marie Alempic from the French National Centre for Scientific Research, says these reanimating viruses are potentially a significant threat to public health, and further study needs to be done to assess the danger that these infectious agents could pose as they awake from their icy slumber.
“One quarter of the Northern Hemisphere is underlain by permanently frozen ground, referred to as permafrost,” write the researchers in their paper.
“Due to climate warming, irreversibly thawing permafrost is releasing organic matter frozen for up to a million years, most of which decompose into carbon dioxide and methane, further enhancing the greenhouse effect.”