Scientists who have worked for the Arctic Circle for decades, say that the melting of eternal ice can bring far more problems than was thought. Under the impenetrable layer of Arctic ice, dozens of ancient viruses can be hidden, waiting for their awakening. It can happen in the event that the permafrost in which they are, will subside.
In 2015, a French group of scientists led by Jean-Michel Clavry and Chantal Abergel discovered in the snows of Siberia Mollivirus sibericum – a virus 30 thousand years old. Delivery of it to the laboratory and experiments showed that the virus affects ameb Acanthamoeba.
In the early 90's in the ice of the Russian tundra, scientists first discovered a mimivirus, originally mistaken for a bacterium. Unlike viruses, mimiviruses have genes for the production of amino acids and complex protein proteins. A detailed study of the complex genome (containing up to 1200 genes, for comparison: HIV has only 9) mimivirus is still ongoing. Mimiviruses are so large that they are visible in a conventional optical microscope. The size is about 0.5 micrometers. Mimiviruses occupy an intermediate position between viruses and microbes, mimicking the latter (hence the name).
Recently, some scientists have assumed that these giant viruses are able to free themselves and infect many people. Fortunately, the vast majority of researchers say that it sounds more like a script of some kind of horror from the 90's.
According to Karl Zimmer, a scientific columnist for the New York Times, who recently published the book "The Planet of Viruses," in which he talks in detail about known viruses and the diseases they cause, the likelihood of such a scenario is extremely low. Even the unlikely.
"This particular type of virus affects only the amoeba. If you are an amoeba, then of course you should be worried, "Zimmer said in an interview with Business Insider in 2015.
"Not a single pathogen, dangerous for humans, has escaped from the eternal Siberian permafrost. Of course, this does not exclude the possibility of new viruses in the future, but now there are so many viruses in our living organisms that I would place all these frozen viruses at the very bottom of the list of our possible fears. "
Recently Zimmer in an e-mail conversation with Business Insider again touched on this topic and added that all samples of these giant viruses were found in the laboratory in water samples obtained from collected samples of ice. In other words, at the moment the viruses are still frozen and do not move through the Russian tundra, like some microscopic "Frankenstein", killing everything around.
"They did not come out themselves. They were neatly thawed in the laboratory. In my opinion, this is another evidence in favor of the fact that the danger of an outbreak of ancient viruses is extremely low. I would say even unlikely, "Zimmer said.
Be that as it may, the importance of such an ancient find for science is undeniable. After all, with the help of these samples we will be able to better understand the true nature of the viruses, which, judging by everything, can be much more complicated than was thought. Speaking about the same size, these giant viruses were about 30 times more common.
The photo below shows how the virus Mollivirus sibericum looks like under a microscope:
In addition to its unusual size, the same Mollivirus sibericum differs from conventional viruses in that it possesses more than 500 individual genes responsible for the production of complex proteins.
"These things are really very interesting and make us think about what really are viruses," Zimmer says.
From a technical point of view, viruses are considered to be non-living infectious agents (that is, they can only be reproduced within living cells that are affected). However, the mimiviruses considered today show some signs characteristic of living beings – they have a functioning metabolism.