Zombie virus: what is 48,500 year old virus trapped in permafrost, is it a threat to humans?

Scientists say that dormant diseases could become a risk to humans as global warming continues to melt permafrost

<p>Scientists have uncovered a so-called ‘Zombie Virus’ in a frozen lake in Siberia, with warnings that global warming could see more viruses uncovered in the future. (Credit: Adobe/ virology.ws)</p>

Scientists have uncovered a so-called ‘Zombie Virus’ in a frozen lake in Siberia, with warnings that global warming could see more viruses uncovered in the future. (Credit: Adobe/ virology.ws)

A new ‘zombie virus’ has been uncovered by scientists in Siberia. Experts found the almost 50,000-year-old virus in a frozen lake in the Russian region.

The discovery of the dormant virus has come with warnings from scientists. Global warming may lead to further pandemics due to the release of dormant viruses found in permafrost which is melting amid to rising temperatures.

The so-called ‘pandoravirus’ was discovered by a team of experts from Aix-Marseille University. The renewed fears over pandemics resulting from permafrost melting comes after a child in Siberia died following a anthrex outbreak, which was traced back to a defrosted infected reindeer carcass.

Scientists also found a further 12 viruses in the Siberian samples. However, the most significant finding was the ‘zombie virus’.

But what is the zombie virus - and is it a threat to humans? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is the ‘zombie virus’?

The newly uncovered pandoravirus was found by the Aix-Marseille University team in a lake bed in Yakutia, Siberia. It is believed that the virus remained dormant for around 48,500 years before beng found.

Study lead Professor Jean-Michel Claverie criticised the lack of major updates to advice around live viruses in melting permafrost. He said: “This wrongly suggests that such occurrences are rare and that ‘zombie viruses’ are not a public health threat.”

The thrawing of permafrost could result in “releasing organic matter frozen for up to a million years”. The study added: “The situation would be much more disastrous in the case of plant, animal, or human diseases caused by the revival of an ancient unknown virus.”

The discovery of the pandoravirus means that the record for the oldest dormant virus found by scientists was shattered. This was previously held by a 30,000-year-old virus found by the same team of experts in Siberia.

Is the ‘zombie virus’ a threat to humans?

The pandoravirus found by scientists is said to only attacks single-cell organisms and is not a threat to humans. However, it is a huge breakthrough for experts.

The study said that other ‘zombie viruses’ have a possibility of being a threat to humans. The release of these through thawing ice could result in another Covid-esque pandemic.

The study read: “It is therefore legitimate to ponder the risk of ancient viral particles remaining infectious and getting back into circulation by the thawing of ancient permafrost layers.”