Be Afraid: Giant Stone-Age Virus Comes Back to Life

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rexusa_1292666agPhoto: Paula Solloway/REX USA.
A team of researchers from Marseille, France have discovered a previously unknown virus that had been locked deep in the Siberian permafrost for over 30,000 years. Once it thawed from the frozen soil, the virus became infectious once again.

Dubbed Pithovirus Sibericum, the virus was able to infect single-celled organisms, but the researchers assure it poses no threat to humans or animals (at least for right now). With the Arctic’s melt season increasing by five days per decade, the researchers worry other Stone Age viruses may resurface. And, climate change isn’t the only assailant to the permafrost — industrial exploitation (i.e. mining and drilling) may unearth other, more threatening viruses in the near future.

Pithovirus Sibericum, one of three newly known families of giant DNA viruses, clocks in at 1.5 microns by 0.5 microns. In case you don’t know average virus dimensions offhand (ya, me neither), that’s one massive virus. While most viruses degrade when exposed to elements such as sunlight, this giant one miraculously started ticking. Though the researchers consider it very unlikely, they say other ancient viruses — far more dangerous than Pithovirus — have the potential to infect humans and animals. Before we all start leaving our houses with dental face masks or hazmat suits, the researchers are still working to determine how and if these viruses could pose any real threat to humans. (CBC)