Scientists revive a ‘zombie virus’ that spent 48,500 years frozen in permafrost

Published: Mar. 9, 2023 at 7:00 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

(Gray News) - Higher temperatures in the Arctic could lead to potential health threats in the future.

NASA climate scientists said the warmer conditions are causing part of the region’s permafrost, a frozen layer of soil that is beneath that surface, to thaw. One-fifth of the Northern Hemisphere is covered by permafrost.

Scientists said if the permafrost thaws significantly, some viruses described as “zombie viruses” that have been lying dormant for thousands of years could emerge and possibly endanger animals and humans.

In a study published in the journal Viruses, scientists isolated different strains of an ancient virus found in permafrost. The study showed that they could each infect cultured amoeba cells.

Out of an abundance of caution, scientists only studied a virus that had the potential to infect amoeba cells, not animals or humans.

Since permafrost provides an oxygen-free environment that is not penetrated by light, scientists say it is like a time capsule of viruses and mummified remains of long-gone animals.

While scientists are hopeful that antibiotics would be able to fight ancient bacterial illnesses, they are concerned about what would happen if viruses were to spread.

NASA said efforts should be made to stop the thaw by addressing overall climate concerns.