Giant ancient virus that is thought to be more than 30,000 years old was discovered in the Siberian frozen waters, according to a new study.
Mollivirus sibericum, the 30,000 year old virus, has been found buried at about 30 meters bellow the ice surface, when a group of astrobiologists tried to bring back to life a plant that came in contact with a prehistoric squirrel’s nest.
Jean-Michel Claverie, professor at the University of Mediterranean School of Medicine, France, and at the same time participant in the research, was very intrigued by the discovery. Claverie, who was on the French research team, started collaborating with other Russian research teams in order to get more accurate information about his latest discovery.
The giant virus was found by using a technique which required the French and Russian researchers to use bacteria called amoeba, which can be found in contact lens infections, and mixed it in a petri dish with the ice samples. “[…] every once in a while, we see them die (the amoeba) and that’s when we know somebody must be killing them.” explained Claverie.
The name of the virus, Molli, comes from a French word that basically stands for something that is flexible or soft, and Sibericum has to do with the location of its discovery, namely Siberia.
The name “giant” came from the fact that, even though Mollivirus sibericum measures only 0.6 microns, unlike other viruses it can be visible using a light microscope. What is even more impressive is the number of genes it contains: 523. The number is quite astouning since the common flu virus only has 11 genes.
Scientists are of opinion that Mollivirus sibericum could be especially dangerous, based on the way that it behaves and compare it to Pandora’s Box.
In a paper published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” journal (PNAS), Claviere expresses his concerns about the newly discovered virus. Given that a very low number of Mollivirus sibericum was able to infect the amoeba, it could be possible that only a handful of such viruses could easily start an epidemic, Claverie said.
The research team is worried about the numerous maritime routes that have now opened due to climate change. An impressive number of companies are trying their luck along the northern coasts of Siberia. While excavating tons of blocks of ice, they could come across a lot more than just a few prehistoric viruses, declares professor Claverie.
In spite of all the worrisome things, Claverie tries to remain optimistic and hopes that these excavations will lead to new discoveries that might help the medical field in the future, by shedding light on the way that biochemical processes and metabolic pathways work.
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