There are renewed fears of another pandemic after scientists revived a ‘zombie’ virus that was trapped under a frozen lake for 50,000 years.
More deadly viruses could be unleashed as permafrost melts in higher temperatures, disease experts have warned.
A team of medical boffins from Aix-Marseille University uncovered the ancient “pandoravirus” in melting permafrost in Siberia, Russia, The Sun reported.
The disease – found trapped beneath a lake bed in Yakutia for 48,500 years – is believed to be the oldest “live” virus to be recovered so far.
It infects single-cell organisms and isn’t believed to pose a threat to humans, experts said.
Professor Jean-Michel Claverie, who led the ground-breaking study, issued a stark warning to medical authorities in the first significant update on “live” viruses in permafrost since 2015.
His team said up to a fifth of the land in the northern hemisphere is underpinned by permanently frozen ground, which, if left to thaw, could unleash a string of deadly microbes that have laid dormant for thousands of years.
“This wrongly suggests that such occurrences are rare and that ‘zombie viruses’ are not a public health threat,” Prof Claverie’s team wrote in their findings.
The scientist isolated 13 types of virus from seven ancient Siberian permafrost samples and only looked at those that infected an amoeba known as acanthamoeba.
This was for safety reasons as these bugs are believed not to be able to infect humans.
“The biohazard associated with reviving prehistorical amoeba-infecting viruses is … totally negligible,” the study read.
Meanwhile, there are suggestions Russian scientist could accidentally unleash a new pandemic by researching viruses from permafrost-preserved remains of mammoths, woolly rhinoceros.
The “risky” experiment on palaeoviruses – as they’re known by – is being carried in the top-secret Vector laboratory in Novosibirsk.
Studying dead carcasses with dormant viruses is believed to be more dangerous as it’s possible the disease could spread to living animals.
Concerns of “zombie” pathogens being revived gained serious traction when a child died in an anthrax outbreak in northern Siberia in 2016.
The case – the first in the area since 1941 – was linked to a heatwave that melted permafrost and exposed an infected reindeer carcass.
Researchers as Ohio State University claimed to detected genetic material from 33 viruses in ice samples taken from the Tibetan plateau that were some 15,000 years old.
This story was originally published by The Sun and was reproduced with permission