Zombie virus trapped deep in Siberian permafrost revived after 50,000 years

29 November 2022, 15:34

The pandoravirus is the second largest virus known
The pandoravirus is the second largest virus known. Picture: Alamy
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

A virus that had been trapped in Siberian permafrost for nearly 50,000 years has been revived by scientists amid fears historic pathogens could be released as global temperatures rise.

Known as a pandoravirus, it was still able to infect cells, researchers found, highlighting the risk of ancient pathogens emerging from ice cores deep underground.

The pandoravirus can infect only single-cell organisms and should not present any risk to humans.

It was trapped beneath at a lake in Yakutia - the coldest city in the world - for 48,500 years. This makes it the oldest "live" virus to be discovered by scientists.

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Yakutsk is the coldest city in the world
Yakutsk is the coldest city in the world. Picture: Getty

"One quarter of the Northern Hemisphere is underlain by permanently frozen ground, referred to as permafrost," the researchers said 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."

The 48,500-year-old virus is one of 13 outlined in a new study - nine of them are believed to be tens of thousands of years old.

The researchers continued: "The situation would be much more disastrous in the case of plant, animal, or human diseases caused by the revival of an ancient unknown virus."

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