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Ancient virus revived after 48,500 years in Arctic: Is this where the next pandemic will come from?

This 48,500-year-old specimen was found in permafrost 52ft (16m) below the bottom of a lake
(Representative Image/Mario Tama/Getty Images)
(Representative Image/Mario Tama/Getty Images)

BELGRADE, SERBIA: Virologists are now fearing that the next pandemic can surface from the Arctic region. Their theory is triggered by an ancient virus that has remained frozen in the Siberian permafrost for over 48,500 years which has now been revived. It is also recorded to be the "oldest ever virus" to have revived, due to rising global temperature. This Pandoravirus, which comes from the name Pandora’s box, is among seven types of viruses in the permafrost to have become active after thousands of years.

Interestingly, the youngest had been frozen for 27,000 years, the most recent to have revived, and also the oldest is called Pandoravirus yedoma. Scientists claim though the revived virus does not pose any threat to humans, however, other viruses that are becoming active once again by melted ice could be "disastrous" and pave the way for new pandemics. “48,500 years is a world record,” Jean-Michel Claverie, a virologist at Aix-Marseille University in France, told the New Scientist. It is a type of giant virus first found in 2013, and also the second largest in the physical size of any discovered viral genus after pithovirus.


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The exact measurement of Pandoravirus is one micrometer long and 0.5 of a micrometer wide, which suggests that it is visible with a light microscope. To be precise, this 48,500-year-old specimen was found in permafrost 52ft (16m) below the bottom of a lake in Yukechi Alas in Yakutia, Russia. Professor Claverie and his team had earlier revived two 30,000-year-old viruses from permafrost, the first being announced in 2014, reports the Daily Mail.

“There’s good reason to think there could be pathogenic viruses in there too,” Chantal Abergel, of Aix-Marseille University in Marseille, France, and co-leader of the team who had discovered the virus then said. Claverie, co-leader of the team at that time said, “Thirty per cent of the world’s oil reserves are thought to be hidden under the permafrost, along with gold and other key minerals, so exploration is bound to increase. So we must be careful to take precautions when prospecting – if people become sick with strange symptoms, it might be wise to quarantine and clear them of dangerous new infections before sending them back.”

All nine viruses can infect single-cell organisms known as amoebas, however, not plants and animals. Meanwhile, the experts reminded us that other frozen viruses could be a severe threat to plant and animal life that includes humans too. In their recently filed research paper, Professor Claverie and team claim that the release of live bacteria or archaea that have remained in cryptobiosis in permafrost for millions of years can be a dangerous risk to "public health concern."

“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. As unfortunately well documented by recent (and ongoing) pandemics, each new virus, even related to known families, almost always requires the development of highly specific medical responses, such as new antivirals or vaccines,” they said, as per the report.