Attack of the P. Sibericum: It Came From Within The Permafrost

French scientists free an ancient giant virus locked into the Siberian permafrost for 30,000 years.
P. SibericumHistory Shows Again and Again How Nature Points Out the Folly Of Man


When Blue Oyster Cult wrote these lyrics for their hit “Godzilla”, it was in reference to the “nuclear” origins of the big guy. The monster, complete with radiation scars, was reawakened and deployed with new powers due to atomic bomb testing.

What then are we to make of the revival of “Pithovirus sibericum”, a so called giant virus that had been previously dormant in the Siberian permafrost. French scientists recently dug it out of the permafrost and tempted it with a nice Amoeba. Then it began to replicate. Viruses can take a 30,000 year nap and wake up hungry!

It turns out the “permafrost” nomenclature is slightly over-stated, as the Arctic region of the planet is warming faster than at any time in history, recorded or unrecorded.* The problem is that a lot of things that had been frozen in the Arctic are not going to stay dormant.

We know, for example, that ancient methane is being released as the Arctic melts, allowing a greenhouse gas way worse than CO2 to pour out into the atmosphere.  But the ever thawing permafrost may contain even more ominous surprises, for example, viruses, bacteria and other pathogens that have long been dormant in the frozen soil, lakes and ponds.

As it happens, the P. sibericum is only dangerous if you are an amoeba. But we have no idea what other pathogens are ready to emerge as the ice melts. Quoted in the Los Angeles Times, the lead scientist on the project was quoted as saying, “we could eventually resurrect active infectious viruses from different periods.” If that doesn’t get them moving, drilling and mining will surely provide a wakeup call. Hey smallpox! There is a whole dumb species ready for a plague revival.

Zombie apocalypse anyone?


*February 2014 was the lowest level of Arctic sea ice ever.

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