Tuesday, October 28, 2014

700 year old virus isolated from the ice

Scientists have discovered a new virus. The DNA and RNA was isolated from 700-year-old Caribou feces, found in a drilled ice core. Two distinct viral genomes were isolated—one with a small circular DNA viral genome (ancient caribou feces associated virus, or aCFV) and one with a partial RNA viral genome (Ancient Northwest Territories cripavirus, or aNCV). The viral capsids were protected for 700 years by the extreme cold. These viruses are related to the geminivirus family (which infects plants). The viruses were no longer alive, but researchers were able to use a modern geminivirus multimeric clone to induce the DNA virus to infect Nicotiana Benthamiana in the lab. The researchers think that the virus came from foliage eaten by the caribou or from flying insects ingested at the same time as foliage.

It is very likely that as global temperature increase and more permafrost melts, many more ancient viruses, not unlike these will be exposed. Any number of viruses may be exposed and some of them may still be infectious. When considered with the giant virus uncovered in Siberia a few weeks ago, it may be wise to develop a stratagey to deal with these potentially dangerous ancient pathogens.

Madeleine Bousquet


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