Scientists around the world have been warning about the melting of glaciers in the northern hemisphere due to global warming. Recently, samples of “zombie viruses” (in this case, dormant and frozen viruses) were discovered in parts of the Arctic’s permafrost and analyzed in the laboratory for their possible infection or “resurrection.”

Information about the “zombie virus”

Permafrost is a layer of soil that remains permanently frozen. As a result, it indirectly functions as a “time capsule,” preserving remains of extinct animals from the frozen region. The so-called “zombie viruses,” thousands of years old, were identified in parts of the permafrost affected by climate change. The latest of these viruses dates back 48,500 years, extracted from a sample of soil from a subterranean lake, 16 meters below the surface.

Jean Michel Claverie, a professor of medicine and genomics at the University of Aix-Marsseille in Marseille, France, has been working on the studies of such “zombie viruses” and their possible consequences. Jean analyzed samples taken from the Siberian permafrost in an attempt to discover if any particles found could be infectious – and he found some.

Claverie studied a virus initially discovered by him in 2003, known as a “giant virus,” one that can be analyzed using light microscopes instead of electronic ones. In 2014 and 2015, the scientist was able to revive permafrost viruses isolated on both occasions, which could only infect amoeba protozoa – and was successful in “resurrecting” the infectious agents.

In February of this year, Jean published a study with samples from Siberia, also with a positive result in infecting the selected amoebas. The virus in the Arctic of 48,000 years was the oldest identified in recent studies.

Moreover, not all viruses can cause harm to humans, and some are even benign. However, as Claverie warns in a CNN interview, the risk may increase with current climate change. “Permafrost thawing will accelerate, and more people may end up going to the Arctic for industrial expeditions,” he notes.

Apart from the zombie viruses, traces of chemical and radioactive materials can also be found in the Arctic region, posing additional risks to both human and wildlife health.

Brigitta Evengård, a professor at Umeå University in Sweden, stresses the need to be proactive and knowledgeable about the situation. “Our immune defense has developed in contact with microbiological environments. If there is a permafrost virus hidden, of which we have had no contact for thousands of years, our defense system may not be sufficient,” she warns.

In conclusion, the discovery of zombie viruses in the Arctic permafrost raises valid concerns, but more research is needed to assess their potential risks to human health. As climate change accelerates, it is crucial to remain vigilant and take measures to preserve the fragile Arctic ecosystem.