Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Virus awakens from beneath the ice

A "giant virus" has been awakened by microbiologists after 30,000 years in ice.  It is still infectious.

Before you make preparations for a doomsday pandemic, take heart.  The virus is only deadly to single cell organisms and is not infectious to humans.

While the virus, found in Siberian permafrost, might not be contagious in terms of human beings, it is the principle of the matter that has a lot of people (like me) concerned.  Global climate change is melting entire swaths of land that many are hellbent on drilling and mining.  I don't mean to sound like I'm writing ad copy for the next "made for SyFy movie," but what else may await us as we disturb these regions?

Dr. Jean-Michel Claverie, a microbiologist and lead author on the study, had this to say:

“If it is true that these viruses survive in the same way those amoeba viruses survive, then smallpox is not eradicated from the planet — only the surface. By going deeper we may reactivate the possibility that smallpox could become again a disease of humans in modern times.”

Claverie and his team of researchers are planning to look at more ice cores from Siberia.  It is thought that a few of these samples might contain pathogens such as smallpox...which was rampant in Siberia at one time.  The possibility that there are yet other pathogens out there, perhaps more deadly ones in that we don't have vaccines for them, cannot be excluded. 

Here's the part where we start talking about human extinction.  

In fairness, however, let us first consider how the article at the link above finishes.  Another microbiologist not affiliated with the study accurately points out that humans breathe in thousands of viruses every day.   The idea that there could be enough civilization-threatening microbes beneath melting ice is more than a bit of stretch.  At the same time, I'm a bit apprehensive about discounting the abilities of a virus.

I've said it before.  There isn't much in the known universe that is tougher than a virus.  They can repair, replicate, and mutate quite quickly.  So much so that many scientists are now questioning whether a virus can ever truly be eradicated.  I have to wonder when our time will be up.  By that I mean, when will we encounter a viral strain that is highly contagious, not easily contained, and one we simply cannot develop a counter for?  

I'm not bashing humanity in this regard.  Such an occurrence wouldn't be our fault in the way that climate change is.  It would simply be the law of averages in nature (hypothetically, I mean) and it would be a humbling blow to the egos of we cockalorums of the universe, to say the least.

Looks like there may be more dangers to climate change than we first thought.

Great.  :\

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