'Zombie Viruses' Frozen In Arctic Permafrost May Trigger New Pandemic, Warn Scientists; Know Why

'Zombie Viruses' Frozen In Arctic Permafrost May Trigger New Pandemic, Warn Scientists; Know Why

According to the scientists, ancient "zombie viruses", also known as Methuselah microbes, that are frozen in the Arctic permafrost, may unleash a major disease outbreak on the Earth if they are released during rising global temperatures.

Rahul MUpdated: Monday, January 22, 2024, 06:27 PM IST
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Permafrost | Pexels

A new pandemic could strike the world due to the melting of Arctic permafrost. According to the scientists, ancient "zombie viruses", also known as Methuselah microbes, that are frozen in the Arctic permafrost, may unleash a major disease outbreak on the Earth if they are released during rising global temperatures. Anticipating the threat, the scientists are setting up an Arctic monitoring network that would detect early cases of a disease caused by the "zombie viruses" before a feared outbreak.

"We now face a tangible threat and we need to be prepared to deal with it. It is as simple as that," geneticist Jean-Michel Claverie, professor emeritus of medicine and genomics at Aix-Marseille University, told a leading UK-based media outlet. Scientists have isolated strains of these Methuselah microbes and are warning that they have potential of unleashing a disease outbreak.

According to Claverie, the researchers are focusing on diseases that might emerge in southern regions and then spread north. However, he said, little attention has been given to an outbreak that might emerge in the far north and then travel south. He warned: "There are viruses up there that have the potential to infect humans and start a new disease outbreak."

Virologist Marion Koopmans of the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam supports Claverie's claim. He said the world does not know what kind of viruses are frozen in the Arctic permafrost, adding that one of them could trigger a disease outbreak like an ancient form of polio. "We have to assume that something like this could happen," he was quoted as saying.

The Consequences Of Melting Arctic Permafrost

Some layers of the Arctic permafrost have been frozen for hundreds of thousands of years due to the temperatures below zero. These layers may contain viruses alien to humans. Since the permafrost can preserve biological material, these viruses may still pose threat to the world. The climate change is resulting in the melting of the Arctic permafrost, thus posing risk of the "zombie viruses" getting released.

“Our immune systems may have never been in contact with some of those microbes, and that is another worry. The scenario of an unknown virus once infecting a Neanderthal coming back at us, although unlikely, has become a real possibility," Claverie opined.

What Is "Zombie Viruses" Or Methuselah Microbes?

This term is used for bacteria and viruses that have been dormant for incredibly long periods of time, often trapped in areas like permafrost or deep sea sediments. Since frozen at temperatures below zero low-oxygen conditions, these bacteria and viruses, if released, may cause unknown illness in the world.

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