Ancient zombie permafrost viruses? Be afraid …

2 minute read

Here’s another reason we need to stop warming up the planet.

Every so often your Back Page scribbler happens upon a story that causes every fibre of his being to shriek: “What could possibly go wrong!?”

Today’s offering is one such example.

Imagine you are a French scientist specialising in genomics who has discovered a number of ancient “zombie” viruses in the Siberian permafrost.

You’ve been studying viruses for decades, and these particular ones are kind of weird because they are “giant” viruses which can be looked at using a regular microscope. More importantly, you don’t know if these giant zombie viruses are still alive or whether they could possibly infect humans.

So what do you do? Do you decide to try and reactivate these nearly 50,000-year-old critters just in case global warming melts the Siberian permafrost and unleashes these potential nasties back into the environment?

Of course you do!

In a study published last month in the journal Viruses, researcher Jean-Michel Claverie and his team detail how the zombie viruses they have discovered are currently able to infect amoebas.

“We view these amoeba-infecting viruses as surrogates for all other possible viruses that might be in the permafrost,” he told CNN. “We see the traces of many, many, many other viruses, so we know they are there.”

While admitting they “don’t know for sure” if the other viruses suggested by the research are still alive, the prospect that they could be is enough to raise an eyebrow.

“Our reasoning is that if the amoeba viruses are still alive, there is no reason why the other viruses will not be still alive, and capable of infecting their own hosts,” Claverie said.

To be fair to the boffins, their argument is that the more we can find out about these viruses the better armed we are to counter any threat to global health they might pose.

And it also adds one more terrifying aspect to the long list of reasons why we really do need to take this climate-change malarkey a bit more seriously. 

We just really hope the French scientists are deadlocking the lab doors at night and double-checking that the all the windows are closed nice and tight.

Sending your story tips to won’t raise global temperatures but it will give us a warm feeling.

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