Ancient virus found, Siberia

By Charlotte Mutoro

 A 30,000 year old giant virus buried deep in the permafrost of Siberia has been discovered after the thawing of the frozen soil.

A team of scientists led by Jean-Michel Claverie and Chantal Abergel of Aix-Marseille University in Marseille, France, isolated the virus which has a huge capsule and carries 500 genes.

Pithovirus sibericum, the ‘ancestral amoeba-infecting virus’ does not belong to one of the two ‘giant virus’ families previously found as first thought, but carries its own distinct DNA.

The virus’s massive size is relative – it still has to be viewed under a microscope, but compared with the Herpes Simplex 1 (coldsore) virus, which carries roughly 74 genes, and the HIV virus’s 12 genes, its greater gene number indicates increased complexity.

Viruses require a host to survive. Research is continuing to see whether that host, which must be individually virus specific, could be the human body, resulting in a possible threat to human health.

It’s been suggested that global warming or mining in the region may have caused the permafrost to melt. 

Featured image: The ancient giant virus Pithovirus sibericum, found deep in the Siberian permafrost. Illustration by Pavel Hrdlička/CC/Wikimedia Commons

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