Mollivirus sibericum is the latest of four giant viruses to be isolated and grown in a lab by French scientists working from a sample obtained from about 30 meters beneath the Siberian permafrost. The sample is approximately 30,000 years old and was originally obtained by Russian scientists who were studying if they could create plants from seed material that had been buried for that long.
The French research team, led by Jean-Michel Claverie, a professor of medical genomics and bioinformatics at Marseilles’s University Of Mediterranean School Of Medicine, have discovered four ancient viruses that are still alive and active.
We’re not stupid enough to revive a virus that may pose a threat to human health. We use amoeba as bait to fish out whatever viruses may be in that specific sample.
The amoebas, similar to the ones found in contact lens infections, were grown specifically for the experiment and were then exposed to the samples. If the amoebas died, the sample was isolated and studied to determine what caused the simple organisms to die. So far, four giant viruses – called that because they are larger than normal viruses and can be seen under a light microscope – have been isolated for study.
Mollivirus sibericum, the fourth virus discovered, is just under a thousandth of a centimeter in length. The name translates as flexible virus from Siberia.
The name is a little mundane compared to the last giant virus we found ‘the Pandoraviruses.‘ Mollivirus sibericum, though could be as equally dangerous as what is in Pandora’s Box, based on its behavior.
The discovery and spread of an unknown virus has been the basis for numerous books and movies. The possibility that ancient viruses can live for thousands of years frozen in ice or in the permafrost has been documented. Although there seems to be little chance that the current discoveries can escape and create an epidemic, global warming is exposing more permafrost and parts of the ice sheet to construction and mining that could release these ancient viruses into the modern world.