European Researchers warned that climate change could reanimate frozen “zombie viruses” and expose humans to lethal diseases. In November 2022, researchers from France, Germany and Russia announced that they had reanimated one such virus. The virus they brought back to life had been frozen for more than 50,000 years.
In their research, they studied 13 new pathogens and found that they were still infectious despite being buried in ice for thousands of years. They termed the potentially dangerous pathogens “zombie viruses,” indicating the risk they pose to humans. However, the pathogens they chose to thaw do not pose any threat to human health.
While the actual danger to human health may be still minimal at the moment, it does exist. The researchers say that they wanted to demonstrate the threat posed by global warming and the thawing of the permafrost. They have successfully proven that some of the pathogens from permafrost could potentially be high risk.
Specifically, permafrost is a layer of frozen ground largely made up of ice. The ground has been frozen for thousands of years and holds different types of organic matter. In the northern hemisphere, permafrost covers almost one-fourth of the ground. Such huge storage of organic matter holds possibilities that could go beyond our imaginations.
“How long these viruses could remain infectious once exposed to outdoor conditions (UV light, oxygen, heat), and how likely they will be to encounter and infect a suitable host in the interval, is yet impossible to estimate,” stated a paper posted in BioRxiv. “But the risk is bound to increase in the context of global warming when permafrost thawing will keep accelerating, and more people will be populating the Arctic in the wake of industrial ventures.”
The researchers have pointed to one example, where a 12-year-old boy died in 2016 after being exposed to an anthrax outbreak in the Arctic. The outbreak devasted people and lead to the death of thousands of reindeer.
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