Scientists Discover Almost 30 Unknown Viruses Frozen In Ice
More than 30 viruses have been discovered in ice in China – most of them have never been seen before.
Once upon a time, in (a fictional) Antarctica, a crew of American researchers were obliterated by a parasitic, single-cell extra-terrestrial buried deep in the ice. Jaws kept people out of the water, but despite how frightening it is, The Thing hasn’t deterred researchers from digging around our frozen lands.
There have been some fascinating discoveries over the past two years: in 2019, scientists in Antarctica found a never-before-seen creature 3,500 metres below the ice; and in 2020, conspiracy theorists went nuts for a 400ft ‘ice ship’ on Google Earth. In a pandemic world, the latest findings are even scarier.
Published in the Microbiome journal, scientists discovered the virus in ice samples taken from the Tibetan Plateau in China in 2015, coming from cores that began to freeze at least 14,400 years ago, they said.
Within the ice, scientists found genetic codes for 33 viruses, with up to 28 of them having never been identified before. It’s believed they came from soil or plants, rather than a human or another animal, managing to survive due to being frozen.
‘These glaciers were formed gradually, and along with dust and gases, many, many viruses were also deposited in that ice. The glaciers in western China are not well-studied, and our goal is to use this information to reflect past environments. And viruses are a part of those environments,’ Zhi-Ping Zhong, lead author and researcher at The Ohio State University Byrd Polar and Climate Research Centre, said in a statement.
‘These are viruses that would have thrived in extreme environments. These viruses have signatures of genes that help them infect cells in cold environments – just surreal genetic signatures for how a virus is able to survive in extreme conditions,’ Matthew Sullivan, co-author of the study and professor of microbiology at Ohio State, explained.
‘These are not easy signatures to pull out, and the method that Zhi-Ping developed to decontaminate the cores and to study microbes and viruses in ice could help us search for these genetic sequences in other extreme icy environments – Mars, for example, the moon, or closer to home in Earth’s Atacama Desert,’ he added.
According to Lonnie Thompson, senior author of the study, the discovery will help researchers learn more about how viruses respond to climate change. ‘We know very little about viruses and microbes in these extreme environments, and what is actually there. The documentation and understanding of that is extremely important,’ he said.
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