48,500-year-old Zombie viruses may ‘start new disease outbreak’: What we know | World News - Hindustan Times
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48,500-year-old Zombie viruses may ‘start new disease outbreak’: What we know

Jan 23, 2024 09:57 PM IST

The urgency of the threat has risen owing to rising temperatures as global warming has resulted in melting of frozen ice.

Warning about dangers posed by viruses buried under ice caps in the Arctic, scientists said that the permafrost could release ‘zombie viruses’, triggering a catastrophic global health emergency. The urgency of the threat has risen owing to rising temperatures as global warming has resulted in melting of frozen ice, experts said after a scientist revived some of them from samples taken from Siberian permafrost last year.

Zombie Virus: A scientist revived some of them from samples taken from Siberian permafrost last year.
Zombie Virus: A scientist revived some of them from samples taken from Siberian permafrost last year.

Geneticist Jean-Michel Claverie of Aix-Marseille university told Guardian, "At the moment, analyses of pandemic threats focus on diseases that might emerge in southern regions and then spread north. By contrast, little attention has been given to an outbreak that might emerge in the far north and then travel south - and that is an oversight, I believe. There are viruses up there that have the potential to infect humans and start a new disease outbreak."

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"The viruses we isolated were only able to infect amoebae and posed no risk to humans. However, that does not mean that other viruses - currently frozen in the permafrost - might not be able to trigger illnesses in humans. We have identified genomic traces of poxviruses and herpesviruses, which are well-known human pathogens, for example," Claverie said, adding, “The danger comes from another global warming impact: the disappearance of Arctic sea ice. That is allowing increases in shipping, traffic and industrial development in Siberia. Huge mining operations are being planned, and are going to drive vast holes into the deep permafrost to extract oil and ores. Those operations will release vast amounts of pathogens that still thrive there. Miners will walk in and breathe the viruses. The effects could be calamitous."

Scientist Marion Koopmans of the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam asserted the same, saying, “We don't know what viruses are lying out there in the permafrost but I think there is a real risk that there might be one capable of triggering a disease outbreak - say of an ancient form of polio. We have to assume that something like this could happen.”

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