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50,000-year-old ‘zombie virus’ revived from ice could be a ‘public health threat,’ scientists warn

SHARE 50,000-year-old ‘zombie virus’ revived from ice could be a ‘public health threat,’ scientists warn
An illustration of virus particles.

An illustration of virus particles.

Michelle Budge, Deseret News

Scientists revived an ancient virus that was found buried in frozen ice, and the “zombie virus” could pose a potential public health threat.

Scientists from the French National Centre for Scientific Research found 13 ancient viruses frozen in Siberian permafrost, or permanently frozen ground, per The Weather Channel.

The oldest sample they discovered was a 48,500-year-old amoeba virus — dubbed Pandoravirus yedoma after Pandora’s box — that had been frozen under a Siberian lake, according to Science Alert.

What is a zombie virus?

The ancient amoeba virus unearthed by researchers is ominously being called a “zombie virus.”

The preliminary paper describes zombie viruses as “viruses that remained dormant since prehistorical times,” but have since been revived due to being unfrozen.

The amoeba virus, which had been dormant for nearly 50,000 years, was unthawed by the researchers, making it a zombie virus.

Are zombie viruses a public health threat?

According to the study, which has not been peer-reviewed yet, zombie viruses could become public health threats as climate change leads to permafrost melting and releasing viruses that have been frozen for thousands of years.

The researchers note that known viruses released from ancient permafrost could be combatted with antibiotics already at our disposal, but “the situation would be much more disastrous in the case of plant, animal, or human diseases caused by the revival of an ancient unknown virus.” 

“It is thus likely that ancient permafrost will release these unknown viruses upon thawing,” the study reads.

Just how infectious these zombie viruses would be when released is yet to be seen, but the risk of possible infections is “bound to increase in the context of global warming when permafrost thawing will keep accelerating,” the researchers wrote.