Scientists have warned about the dangers associated with the viruses buried under ice caps in the Arctic and other places. As per a report in The Guardian, scientists have stated that the melting Arctic permafrost could release the 'zombie viruses' and trigger a catastrophic global health emergency. The threat has been raised following rising temperatures due to global warming, which started melting the frozen ice. A scientist revived some of them from samples taken from Siberian permafrost last year to better understand the risks associated with these viruses. These ancient viruses have spent thousands of years frozen in the ground.
Geneticist Jean-Michel Claverie of Aix-Marseille University said, "At the moment, analyses of pandemic threats focus on diseases that might emerge in southern regions and then spread north. By contrast, little attention has been given to an outbreak that might emerge in the far north and then travel south—and that is an oversight, I believe. There are viruses up there that have the potential to infect humans and start a new disease outbreak."
Agreed with the same scientist, Marion Koopmans of the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam agreed with the same and further added, "We don't know what viruses are lying out there in the permafrost, but I think there is a real risk that there might be one capable of triggering a disease outbreak, say of an ancient form of polio. We have to assume that something like this could happen."
Although the viruses have been buried in permafrost for thousands of years, live viruses could still infect single-celled creatures, as demonstrated by a team of scientists led by Claverie in Siberia in 2014. Additional research, which was published the previous year, identified several virus strains from seven distinct Siberian locations and demonstrated their ability to infect cultured cells. Among those, a virus sample was 48,500 years old.
Geneticist Claverie said that the viruses they isolated were only able to infect amoebae and posed no risk to humans. However, that does not mean that other viruses that are currently frozen in the permafrost might not be able to trigger illnesses in humans. They have identified genomic traces of poxviruses and herpesviruses, which are well-known human pathogens, for example.
A fifth of the northern hemisphere is covered by permafrost. It is made up of soil that has been kept at temperatures below zero for long periods. Scientists have discovered that some layers have remained frozen for hundreds of thousands of years. It has long supported the Arctic tundra and boreal forests of Alaska, Canada, and Russia. Together with viruses, it acts as a type of time capsule, preserving the mummified remains of several extinct creatures. As per the meteorologists, the region is heating up several times faster than the average rate of increase in global warming.
The danger comes from the disappearance of Arctic sea ice, which is another global warming impact. It is allowing increases in shipping, traffic, and industrial development in Siberia. Geneticist Claverie warned that huge mining operations are being planned, which are going to drive vast holes into the deep permafrost to extract oil and ores. Those operations will release huge amounts of pathogens that still thrive there. The effects could be calamitous if miners walk in and breathe the viruses.
(Input from various sources)