Ancient viruses can be released from the permafrost: scientists have warned about the danger
Ancient viruses, which are buried in the permafrost of the Arctic, may one day be “released” due to global warming and provoke a large outbreak of previously unknown diseases, lead to a new pandemic.
Scientists warn about such a danger and a possible global emergency, – writes The Guardian.
French geneticist Jean-Michel Clavery emphasized that today, forecasts for new pandemics are focused on diseases that can arise in southern regions and then spread to the north.
“Instead, little attention is being paid to an outbreak that could start in the far north and then spread south. This, in my opinion, is a failure, because there are viruses in the north that can infect people and cause a new outbreak of the disease,” the scientist is confident.
In 2014, Clavery led a group of scientists who researched so-called “zombie viruses” in Siberia. They found out that, even after a thousand-year stay in permafrost, they can infect single-celled organisms. Various studies have proven the existence of several different virus strains in seven different locations in Siberia. The age of one of the samples is 48,500 years.
“The viruses we studied do not pose a danger to humans. But this does not mean that other viruses buried in permafrost cannot cause disease in humans. For example, we have identified genomic traces of poxviruses and herpesviruses, which are well-known human pathogens,” adds Clavery.
Permafrost covers a fifth of the northern hemisphere. It consists of soil that has been stored for a long time at a temperature below zero. Permafrost is “cold, dark and oxygen-free”, so it is an ideal environment for storing biological material.
“You can put yogurt in permafrost and it will be edible 50,000 years from now,” Clavery gave an example.
The problem is that the permafrost of the world is changing. The upper layers of the planet’s main reserves – in Canada, Siberia and Alaska – are melting due to climate change, which affects the Arctic. According to meteorologists, the region is warming several times faster than even the average rate of growth of global warming.
The greatest risk, Clavery emphasized, comes from the disappearance of Arctic sea ice. This allows for an increase in shipping. Large-scale mining operations are also planned in the region, during which they want to make huge holes in the deep permafrost to extract oil and ore. This will release a huge number of pathogens, scientists are convinced.
“If you look at the history of outbreaks of epidemics, one of the key factors was changes in land use. Nipah virus was spread by bats that were driven out of their habitat by humans. Similarly, monkeypox is associated with the spread of urbanization in Africa. And this is what we will soon see in the Arctic: a complete change in land use can cause a new outbreak,” virologist Marion Koopmans predicted.
Permafrost or perennial permafrost are terrestrial rocks with a temperature lower than 0°C. Due to global warming and the constant melting temperature of ice at 0°C, the permafrost is melting and releasing a lot of carbon into the atmosphere.
Let’s add that according to a study published by The Cryosphere, a journal of the European Union of Geological Sciences, the Earth lost 28 trillion tons of ice from 1994 to 2017. This would be enough to cover the entire territory of Great Britain with a layer of ice 100 meters thick.
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