Scientists have recently unearthed a 30,000-year-old “giant virus” from the icy wastelands of northeastern Russia. Mollivirus sibericum, nicknamed “frankenvirus,” is the fourth type of prehistoric virus found since 2003. In an effort to learn more about the specimen, researchers are now attempting to reanimate it, bringing life to the species in a scientific experiment that takes after the book its nickname was inspired by. The findings are reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Mollivirus sibericum the Giant Virus
Found in the Siberian permafrost, Mollivirus sibericum is roughly 0.6 microns in size, scientifically putting it under the classification of a “giant virus,” or one that measures longer than half a micron (or a thousandth of a millimeter), according to Live Mint.
Interestingly enough, these ancient viruses are actually more genetically complex than their modern-day counterparts. Mollivirus sibericum, for example, contains well over 500 genes, whereas the modern flu we’ve all come to dread only has eight.
SCIENTISTS BRING THE FRANKENVIRUS BACK TO LIFE
The French researchers behind the discovery have been focused on studying these types of viruses for some time now. They hope to revive the specimens by placing them into single cell amoebas. This procedure will permit scientists to effectively study the viruses in safe laboratory conditions. The same idea was implemented to resurrect and study the “Spanish flu” virus, which killed millions of people in its hay day.
Urgency is particularly needed, as there is a possibility that climate change can melt the permafrost and bring the viruses back to life in that manner. This is especially true as people continue to seek oil in same regions the ancient viruses are known to be found in:
“A few particles that are still infectious may be enough, in the presence of a vulnerable host, to revive potentially pathogenic viruses,” states Jean-Michel Claverie, one of the lead researchers.
“If we are not careful, and we industrialize these areas without putting safeguards in place, we run the risk of one day waking up viruses such as smallpox that we thought were eradicated,” he warned.