SIBERIA- A team of French researchers and scientists recently discovered a new virus in the Siberian permafrost that is aged approximately 30,000 years.
The virus Mollivirus sibericum, among scientist it is also referred to as the “Frankevirus” due to its enormous size. They say it is truly a monster on the viruses scale. Just for comparison, the M. sibericum encodes 523 genetic proteins whereas the genome of the influenza virus encodes just eleven!
We also need to note that viruses are considered giant if they are longer than half a micron, or 0.0005 millimetres. M. sibericum is the fourth biggest virus discovered in history.
The team of scientists, who published their research to the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Science”, mention that the climate change due to global warming could awaken this virus and many others that have been found in the same area, during the last few years.
For instance, last year scientists found the Pithovirus sibericum, in the same sample of Arctic permafrost- of course neither virus is harmful to any known living being today, but having a prehistoric virus floating around is quite concerning on its own.
Edward Holmes, a professor of infectious diseases and biosecurity at the University of Sydney, who is relevant to the subject stated:
“What’s interesting about the new virus is viral diversity; it’s cool that they’re so big, and I’m querying the age, but the risk? None. We are more at risk from the standard microbiological fauna that floats around. The problem with things this old is that DNA degrades quite quickly. So trying to get any material that is that old is very, very difficult. The oldest pathogen [we have identified]is plague bacterium going back 1500 years – and that was was very degraded. Here you have an intact virus going back 30,000 years so it would have to have been absolutely, instantaneously frozen and then experience no thawing or degradation. That’s a tough call for me … I’d like the age to be independently verified.”
Ultimately, this is a fascinating discovery that could bring some ground-breaking new techniques in various fields of science- so fingers crossed and hope for the best.