Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Resurrecting giant viruses

I remember reviewing a book some time ago, a somewhat fanciful book, that stated that the cause of the pandemic collapse was global warming's melting of the ice caps, and thus releasing all the stored up frozen baddies. I was a bit dubious.
Well, the authoress may have been overly simplifying, but apparently there is some legitimate concern.
Geoffrey Mohan, Los Angeles Times, 3 March 2014 (hat tip: MR)
A 30,000-year-old giant virus has been revived from the frozen Siberian tundra, sparking concern that increased mining and oil drilling in rapidly warming northern latitudes could disturb dormant microbial life that could one day prove harmful to man.
The latest find, described online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, appears to belong to a new family of mega-viruses that infect only amoeba. But its revival in a laboratory stands as “a proof of principle that we could eventually resurrect active infectious viruses from different periods,” said the study’s lead author, microbiologist Jean-Michel Claverie of Aix-Marseille University in France.
“We know that those non-dangerous viruses are alive there, which probably is telling us that the dangerous kind that may infect humans and animals -- that we think were eradicated from the surface of Earth -- are actually still present and eventually viable, in the ground,” Claverie said.
With climate change making northern reaches more accessible, the chance of disturbing dormant human pathogens increases, the researchers concluded. Average surface temperatures in the area that contained the virus have increased more steeply than in more temperate latitudes, the researchers noted.
“People will go there; they will settle there, and they will start mining and drilling,” Claverie said. “Human activities are going to perturb layers that have been dormant for 3 million years and may contain viruses.”
It should be noted that most pathogens can't just jump around from species to species with ease, so it is not necessarily humans at risk.  But most of our food supply comes from relatives of grass, and we no how a disease that wipes them out would turn out.


Harry Flashman said...

Sounds like something right out of the X Files.

russell1200 said...

Harry: I know. It makes me question my own sense of what is "realistic."