French Scientist Resurrects 30,000-Year-Old Giant Virus

Tuesday, 04 Mar 2014 09:24 AM

By Courtney Coren

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A 30,000-year-old giant single-celled virus was brought back to life after being preserved in the Siberian permafrost.

While not harmful to humans, it raises the question for scientists whether other ancient or eradicated viruses could be released if the climate warms, Live Science reported.

"There is now a non-zero probability that the pathogenic microbes that bothered [ancient human populations] could be revived, and most likely infect us, as well," Jean-Michel Claverie, bioinformatics researcher at Aix-Marseille University in France, wrote in an email.

A "non-zero probability" means that it's not impossible.

"Those pathogens could be banal bacteria (curable with antibiotics) or resistant bacteria or nasty viruses," Claverie added. "If they have been extinct for a long time, then our immune system is no longer prepared to respond to them. If viable virions are still there, this is a good recipe for disaster."

This is not the first mysterious giant virus found by Claverie and his team, but not everyone is as worried as the French scientist of what this could mean for humans if more complex viruses are resurrected.

According to Live Science, giant viruses "are as big as bacteria but lack characteristic cellular machinery and metabolism of those microorganisms."

"We are inundated by millions of viruses as we move through our everyday life," said Curtis Suttle, a marine virologist at the University of British Columbia in Canada, who was not a researcher in the study.

"Every time we swim in the sea, we swallow about a billion viruses and inhale many thousands every day," Suttle explained. "It is true that virus will be archived in permafrost and glacial ice, but the probability that viral pathogens of humans are abundant enough, and would circulate extensively enough to affect human health, stretches scientific rationality to the breaking point."

Claverie's research was published in the March 3 edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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