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Scientists recently revived a record-setting 48,500-year-old virus that had been buried under the Siberian permafrost for millennia, Smithsonian Magazine reported.
In their study, the research team said the ancient pandoravirus was revived along with a group of other viruses found in the permafrost.
They noted that all the viruses only infect tiny amoebas and do not pose any direct threats to humans. But the team cautioned that as these pathogens are alive and able to replicate, this means that other viruses – including ones dangerous to humans – could be buried beneath layers of ice.
Known as “zombie viruses,” these pathogens have been able to reawaken due to the rising global temperatures that are thawing the permafrost.
Permafrost covers around 24 percent of the landmass in the Northern Hemisphere and makes up nearly 50 percent of all carbon stored in Earth’s soil. It’s not exactly clear how many trapped microbes and viruses could emerge as permafrost layers disappear.
Russia experienced a deadly outbreak because of this melting in 2016: At the time, a heatwave thawed a 75-year-old frozen reindeer carcass infected with anthrax. The bacterium then spread to other reindeer and people, hospitalizing dozens and killing one child.
Researchers warn this may become more common.
“We really don’t know what’s buried up there,” microbiologist Birgitta Evengård, who was not involved in the current study, told NPR in 2016. “This is Pandora’s box.”