A group of scientists has warned about the possibility of a new pandemic caused by a virus that has remained frozen for 30,000 years in the Arctic and may now be released as a result of global warming and increasing shipping activity in Siberia. This was recently confirmed by a geneticist at the University of Aix-Marseille, Jean-Michel Claverie, who warned about the possibility that these frozen viruses could break free in the future and cause an outbreak of a new disease.
The researchers who discovered the virus have since isolated strains of this microbe, better known as the ‘zombie virus’ or Pithovirus sibericum, given the possibility that it could cause a new global medical emergency. Moreover, they started planning a surveillance network in the Arctic —the place where the virus remains frozen during this time—to identify possible diseases and provide quarantine and medical treatment to infected people.
“Today, the analysis of the pandemic threat focuses on diseases that may arise in the southern regions and then spread to the north. It is lent. little attention to an outbreak that may arise in the far north and then travel south, and I think that’s a violation. “There are viruses out there that have the potential to infect people and cause a new outbreak of a disease,” said geneticist Jean-Michel Claverie.
Image of Pithovirus sibericum virus.
The ‘zombie virus’ or Pithovirus sibericum lived for more than 30,000 years in a layer of Siberian permafrost. In particular, on permanently frozen ground from the extreme northeast of Siberia. Recently, it was discovered by a group of scientists from the Information Génomique et Structurale (IGS-CNRS) laboratory in Marseille, France.
“We don’t know what the permafrost virus is, but I think there’s a real risk that someone could cause disease progression, for example, an ancient form of polio. We have to assume that something like this could happen,” he revealed to The Guardian the virologist of the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam Marion Koopmans.
In 2014, the geneticist Jean-Michel Claverie, Together with other scientists, isolated living viruses in Siberia and showed that they can infect single-celled organisms. The investigation continued his course until last year when the existence of many viral strains that could infect cultured cells was proven.
“The viruses we isolated can only infect amoebas and pose no danger to humans. However, that does not mean that other viruses, which are currently frozen in permafrost, do not cause diseases in humans. “We found the genomic traces of poxviruses and herpesviruses, which are well-known human pathogens, for example,” explained Claverie.
Researcher Jean-Michel Claverie in the laboratory.
The virus was found in permafrost, a layer of frozen soil in very cold or periglacial regions. It currently covers a fifth of the northern hemisphere. The layers that make it up remained frozen for thousands of years. However, the trend is changing. And some of these layers are starting to melt due to climate warming.
Despite this, as stated by Jean-Michel Claverie himself, this melting is not the main danger. “The danger comes from another effect of global warming: the disappearance of Arctic sea ice. This created an increase in shipping, traffic, and industrial development in Siberia. “Major mining operations are planned that will open large holes deep in the permafrost to extract oil and minerals,” Claverie explained.
These operations have a direct impact on the soil. And, as Claverie himself says, “Those operations will release a lot of pathogens that are still there.” “Miners go in and breathe in viruses. The effects can be terrible,” he said.
According to scientists, permafrost can contain viruses that have been frozen for millions of years. “Our immune system may not have come in contact with some of the microbes, and that is another concern. “The scenario that an unknown virus that once infected a Neanderthal comes back to us, although unlikely, turns out to be a real possibility,” he said.
It is precisely for this reason that different prestigious entities are already working with the University of the Arcticto developing plans based on quarantine design