Ancient Virus Recovered from Permafrost

Found in Siberia

Scientists have discovered an ancient giant virus in the permafrost of Siberia. (Maarten Takens / Flickr)
Photo: Maarten Takens / Flickr Lena Pillars

Scientists have discovered an ancient virus locked in the 30,000-year-old permafrost of Russia’s Chukotka region, Alaska Dispatch News reported Wednesday. The virus, named Mollivirus sibericum (“soft virus from Siberia”), is the fourth ancient giant virus discovered in the past 12 years and the second found in the Chukotka region. 

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes the new virus as spherical, with a diameter of about 0.6 microns. A giant virus measures 0.5 microns (equivalent to 0.0005 millimeters) or more, making it larger than most bacteria and big enough to be seen with a regular microscope, according to Alaska Dispatch News.

“The fact that two different viruses retain their infectivity in prehistorical permafrost layers should be of concern in a context of global warming,” says the study abstract. 

The previous virus found in Chukotka, Pithovirus sibericum, is the largest ever found, measuring in at 1.5 microns (0.0015 millimeters). Scientists were able to stimulate that virus and discovered that it can infect amoebas but not humans.

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