Scientists warn that among the many dangers of global warming, one in particular, is scary beyond doubt: deadly viruses, which have remained dormant for millennia could now ‘wake-up’.
As Earth Artic circle is melting, infectious agents—some of which many have been responsible for the greatest and deadliest global epidemics in the past—coule wake up once again spelling disaster among humanity, say, scientists.
The warning is simple, yet bone-chilling. Bacteria and viruses which were naturally contained in deep layers of ice—dormant for thousands of years—are at risk of being exposed due to global warming.
Scientists warn that climate change is causing permafrost—which has remained frozen for centuries—to melt at alarming rates. Furthermore, mining and digging operations pout the soil beneath at risk—and both could wake dormant, deadly viruses preserved within.
It turns out that on Earth, frozen permafrost soil is an excellent place where bacteria can stay alive for extended periods of time. As the Arctic circle is melitng—rising around three times faster than other parts of the workd—ice and permafrost melt and viruses are being released warn scientists.
Experts have found that climate change is warming the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions more than twice the global average.
One researcher has already started searching for these deadly viruses.
Jean-Michel Claverie, an evolutionary biologist at Aix-Marseille University in France has started studying various DNA samples of permafrost layers for three years, trying to find a genetic signature of viruses and bacteria that could be deadly for humans. Regrettably, he has found evidence of many bacteria and viruses that could prove to be extremely dangerous for humans.
Speaking to the Independent, Dr. Claverie warns that pathogenic viruses—some of which may have caused global epidemics in the past—could be exposed by human digging, in a dangerous move that could “spell disaster”.
“Permafrost is a very good preserver of microbes and viruses because it is cold, there is no oxygen, and it is dark. Pathogenic viruses that can infect humans or animals might be preserved in old permafrost layers, including some that have caused global epidemics in the past. At the moment, these regions are deserted and the deep permafrost layers are left alone. ”
“However, these ancient layers could be exposed by the digging involved in mining and drilling operations. If viable virions are still there, this could spell disaster.”
Dr. Claverie said that the idea that viruses could be completely eradicated gave our planet a false sense of security. Even though many of the viruses would most likely cease to be infectious when exposed to light, other ‘giant’ viruses could be very harmful.
“Most viruses are rapidly inactivated outside host cells, due to light, desiccation, or spontaneous biochemical degradation,” he continued.
“For instance, if their DNA is damaged beyond possible repair, the virions will no longer be infectious. However, among known viruses, the giant viruses tend to be very tough and almost impossible to break open. The possibility that we could catch a virus from a long-extinct Neanderthal suggests that the idea that a virus could be ‘eradicated’ from the planet is wrong, and gives us a false sense of security”
“If the pathogen hasn’t been in contact with humans for a long time, then our immune system would not be prepared. So yes, that could be dangerous.”