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What Now! Scientists Uncover A 48,500-year-old Pandoravirus Buried In Ice

It's not that our world needs new pandemics and viruses, but researchers have discovered a 48,500-year-old virus in the permafrost of Siberia. Yes, 48,500 years old!

Researchers have revived seven types of viruses that have been frozen for thousands of years in the Siberian permafrost. The youngest virus has been frozen for 27,000 years, while the oldest has been frozen for 48,500 years.

This virus is by far the most ancient virus in history.

The virus is named after Pandora's Box - an artefact from Greek mythology related to Pandora's story in Hesiod's poem Works and Days from 700 B.C.

The pandoravirus is a genus of giant viruses discovered in 2013 and is the second largest genus in terms of physical size after pithovirus.

Despite being only 0.5 micrometres wide and one micrometre long, Pandoravirus can be seen under a light microscope. The specimen was found in permafrost 52 feet (16 meters) below the bottom of a lake in Yukechi Alas in Yakutia, Russia, approximately 48,500 years ago.

According to the team, the oldest newly discovered virus is almost 50,000 years old. Almost 48,500 years old is a world record, according to Jean-Michel Claverie, a team member and researcher at Aix-Marseille University. In its latest study, his team examined seven ancient viruses. The group published a preprint of their findings earlier this month [1].

This 48,500-year-old virus is a pandoravirus that infects single-celled organisms known as amoebas.

In the past, the group has succeeded in reviving two other ancient viruses that are 30,000 years old, but the new discovery is unique because it is 48,500 years old. While other researchers claim to have revived bacteria that are believed to be 250 million years old, the viruses discovered and revived by this team are considered to be the oldest ever revived.

As Claverie stated, "There is a real danger," adding that "bacteria and viruses are being released every day." However, he stated that the potential level of danger cannot be determined precisely at this time.

Climate change has caused the permafrost to continue to thaw, causing a danger that Russia has warned about. Despite being deeply frozen for centuries or even millennia, soil that has been thawed can still contain viable spores of zombie bacteria and viruses, Nikolay Korchunov, a senior Russian representative reported.

Although the pithovirus, which had been frozen for approximately 30,000 years prior to the experiment, is harmless to humans, Professor Claverie pointed out that long-frozen viruses can wake up and begin re-infecting hosts once they have been frozen for such a long period of time.

Story first published: Tuesday, November 29, 2022, 20:58 [IST]
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