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30,000-year-old giant virus discovered in Siberia


A new type of giant virus which has survived being frozen for more than 30,000 years has been discovered by researchers in Siberia.

The virus called “Pithovirus” which was found in the frozen ground of extreme north-eastern Siberia is harmless to humans and animals.

The 30-millenium-old virus is contemporaneous with the extinction of Neanderthal man.

In-depth analysis of Pithovirus showed that it has almost nothing in common with the giant viruses that have previously been characterized.

This makes it the first member of a new virus family, bringing to three the number of distinct families of giant viruses known to date.

The study demonstrates that viruses can survive in permafrost (the permanently frozen layer of soil found in the Arctic regions) almost over geological time periods, i.e. for more than 30,000 years.

These findings have important implications in terms of public health risks related to the exploitation of mining and energy resources in circumpolar regions, which may arise as a result of global warming.

The re-emergence of viruses considered to be eradicated, such as smallpox, whose replication process is similar to Pithovirus, is no longer the domain of science fiction.

The probability of this type of scenario needs to be estimated realistically.

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