Virus from Stone Age found in frozen soil
Published 05/03/2014 | 02:30
French scientists have awakened a giant, Stone Age virus – the world's biggest – locked deep under the ice of Siberia for at least 30,000 years.
The virus, which poses no danger to humans or animals, is so large it can be seen under a conventional microscope and dates back to the times when mammoths and Neanderthals walked the Earth.
"This is the first time we've seen a virus that's still infectious after this length of time," said Professor Jean-Michel Claverie, from the National Centre of Scientific Research, who revived the virus with Chantal Abergel, his fellow researcher and wife. He said "60pc of its gene content doesn't resemble anything on Earth".
Although this virus is harmless, the scientists warned that others might be lurking under the permafrost at risk of being unleashed due to drilling or global warming.
Named pithovirus sibericum, the virus was found in a 100ft-deep sample of frozen soil taken from coastal tundra in Chukotka, near the East Siberian Sea.
The team thawed the virus and watched it replicate in a culture in a Petri dish, where it infected an amoeba, a simple single-celled organism. Radiocarbon dating of the soil put the vegetation that grew in it at more than 30,000 years old.
The work shows that viruses can survive being frozen for extremely long periods, the scientists said. They warned that humanity must steel itself for the potential arrival of harmful viruses. (© Daily Telegraph, London)