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Ancient viruses sound scary, but there's no need to panic

By Jennifer McKimm-Breschkin

Can ancient human viruses uncovered by drilling in permafrost cause a modern pandemic?

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You may have seen recently that scientists recovered and “revived” a giant virus from Siberian permafrost (frozen soil) that dates back 30,000 years.

The researchers raised concerns that drilling in the permafrost may expose us to many more pathogenic viruses. Should we be worried about being infected from the past? Can human viruses survive in this permafrost environment and come back to wreak havoc?

First, we need to examine the properties of viruses.

Not only is the recently-discovered virus old, but it is extremely large. Viruses are normally so small that between 5,000 and 100,000, placed side by side, would only measure 1mm.


An ultrathin section of a Pithovirus particle in an infected Acanthamoeba castellanii cell.
Julia Bartoli and Chantal Abergel, IGS and CNRS-AMU

But this giant...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.