Home » Scientists Discovered A Zombie Virus In The Fossil Of A Woolly Mammoth, Is A New Pandemic Coming?

Scientists Discovered A Zombie Virus In The Fossil Of A Woolly Mammoth, Is A New Pandemic Coming?

by Coffee Table Science
In a scientific breakthrough, Russian scientists found a fossil of a giant woolly mammoth from Siberia, which was killed by a ‘zombie virus’ approximately 10,000 years ago. These viruses are supposed to have lain dormant for thousands of years in northeast Siberia’s frozen mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, and other extinct species remains. 

Image credits: Wikimedia 

Recent projects on mammoth

They appear to continue to fascinate biologists. A project named ‘Colossal’ was started last year to modify the genetic makeup of the Asian elephant, the mammoth’s closest living relative, to produce a hybrid animal that could survive in the Arctic Circle.

This most recent initiative, led by Russia’s State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology (Vector), aims to collect cellular material holding the viruses that killed these frozen viruses and bring it back to the lab for testing. For a complete understanding of the potential risk, we’ll have to look into the history of vectors.

History of vectors in Russia

One of the research centre’s branches is a former biological weapons laboratory that accidentally released spores of deadly anthrax bacterium in April 1979, during the Soviet era. 
The resultant anthrax infection killed at least 66 people, despite Soviet authorities denying the incident for years.

Image credits: Pixabay

Even if we could trust the Russians not to release a virus, there are additional reasons to be concerned that something horrible will emerge from the freezing wastelands of the Arctic. It is melting as a result of global warming, and from it may resurface dangerous old infectious adversaries. 

Summer temperatures in Russia’s far north were unusually mild eight years ago.
Soon after, 72 members from a nomadic reindeer herder village, including 41 children, were hospitalized with illnesses. Viruses derived from these leftovers can subsequently infect groundwater, which people drink. A Siberian child who died in 2014 did have an intestinal type of disease, which produces fever, stomach aches, diarrhea, and vomiting at first.

Potential upcoming risks

In a workshop two years ago, international experts from groups like the Science Advisory Council of the European Academies issued a dire warning: “Arctic ice may contain infectious viruses or bacteria that have lain silent for thousands or even millions of years, for which locals lack immunity and for which there are no safety precautions available.”

Since these viruses and bacteria initially evolved to live inside warm bodies, some experts believe they would not have been able to survive being frozen for many years. Scientists from the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened in 2019 for a special meeting to investigate the threat of lethal microbes emerging from our planet’s melting ice. 

According to professor Claverie’s team in a yet-to-be-published study, the greatest risk of all is from unknown viruses that, like Covid-19, could quickly spread through a community lacking immunity, sparking a pandemic. 

How did scientists find this “zombie virus”

Russian scientists experimenting with long-dormant mammal-infecting viruses have alarmed international experts such as Jean-Michel Claverie, a professor at the microbiology department at the France’s University of Aix-Marseille.

Claverie claimed last month that his team had revived a Siberian ‘zombie’ virus. This had been frozen beneath a lake bed for about 50,000 years. 

Why is the looming threat of a zombie virus pandemic?

This type of virus usually awakens in warm weather, and temperatures in northern Russia have risen by up to 1 degree Celsius in the last 15 years. Furthermore, the warmer weather is melting the ice that covers much of the country, including graves and animal cemeteries.

Floodwaters from melting ice damage river banks where tribes bury their dead. The zombie anthrax spores are emerging from such skeletal remains.

According to Alexey Kokorin, head of the World Wildlife Fund’s climate and energy programme in Russia, “anthrax spores can live in frozen human and animal carcasses for hundreds of years before being discharged.”

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