Bringing a 30,000-year-old virus back to life sounds like the plot of a real-life horror movie. So if you were scared by the incurable virus in the movie “28 Days Later,” you might want to stop reading right now.
Scientists who discovered a prehistoric virus called Mollivirus sibericum in the Siberian permafrost plan to give the virus its first wakeup call since the last Ice Age (after first verifying that it can’t harm humans and animals, thankfully). It’s hoped the study could shed insight into ancient dormant viruses that could, it’s feared, get another chance at spreading as permafrost retreats due to climate change.
The team, from the French National Centre for Scientific Research, announced its plans in a study published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal.
The virus is classified as a “giant” virus because it’s visible by light microscopy. Mollivirus sibericum carries a complex genetic structure that houses more than 500 genes, according to the study’s abstract. The influenza virus, in comparison, has only 8 genes.
The same team that discovered Mollivirus sibericum found another 30,000-year-old virus, Pithovirus sibericum, in the same Russian permafrost. As described in PNAS last year, those scientists revived a sample of Pithovirus sibericum in safe lab conditions and determined it was still infectious, though it only affects amoebas.