Scientists in France have revived a 30,000-year-old virus frozen in Siberian ice. And as an added bonus, the virus—which targets amoebae, not humans—is still infectious. Imagine, if you will, a doomsday scenario in which all of the earth’s ice melts, and in addition to tons of flooding, we are given the added bonus of still-viable, ancient viruses.
According to the French team that made the discovery, the Pithovirus sibericum is a whopping 1.5 micrometers long, the largest ever found. After Russian scientists revived an ancient plant two years ago, Jean-Michel Claverie thought, “If it was possible to revive a plant, I wondered if it was possible to revive a virus,” like that is just a normal thing everyone thinks about. More viruses, please!
Environments like permafrost, where this virus was discovered, are suited for preservation because they “cold, anoxic [lacking oxygen], and in the dark.” Giant viruses, much like giant versions of pretty much anything, are also tougher to kill than normal viruses.
Claverie also said:
We thought it was a property of viruses that they pack DNA extremely tightly into the smallest particle possible, but this guy is 150 times less compacted than any bacteriophage [viruses that infect bacteria]. We don’t understand anything anymore!
Just what we needed to hear from a scientist who revived an ancient virus frozen in ice: “We don’t understand anything anymore!”
Although, as one virologist pointed out, “people already inhale thousands of viruses every day, and swallow billions whenever they swim in the sea,” so that should make you feel way better.
Here is video of the virus infecting an amoeba:
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.