The global warming observed in the last 30-50 years has started to melt the permafrost frozen in the soil's lower layer. Like the radioactive and chemical wastes inside these glaciers, the microorganisms frozen for many years are dangerous for humans.
Scientists warn that viruses that have remained frozen in the soil for 48,500 years may re-emerge due to thawing caused by climate change. They are called "zombie viruses" because they "come back to life".
If these viruses, the characteristics of which are not fully known, spread among people, the world may face the threat of a new pandemic.
As a result of research, a giant type of virus - Pithovirus Sibericum - was found in a sample of 27,000-year-old permafrost. This virus belongs to the DNA-containing Pandoraviridae family that infects amoebae. Scientists named the virus Pithovirus Sibericum because its shape resembles ancient Greek wine vessels called "pithos." They are almost as large as bacteria and are easily seen using standard microscopes. This study shows that these viruses, which remain frozen, can still maintain their infectious and pathogenic properties.
Fortunately, the amoeba population poses the main threat posed by this zombie virus. However, scientists have also discovered other giant viruses - the "microbe-mimicking" virus or Mimivirus. Although the pathology of these viruses is still unknown, antibodies against giant viruses have been found in humans - which means that these viruses can be pathogenic for us.
Researchers note that there is a possibility that other viruses that are not yet known to science will appear during the thawing of the frozen layer. It is impossible to predict how infectious these viruses will be when exposed to external environmental conditions such as UV light, oxygen and heat.
The genetic material of these viruses is unusual, which means new opportunities for science to discover. But time will tell what other microorganisms are hidden under the glaciers and their consequences for humanity.