Scientist discovers a 'zombie virus' amid melting permafrost in Arctic

Warmer temperatures in the Arctic area are melting decades-old ice, and a scientist looking for infectious particles in permafrost has discovered "zombie viruses." According to CNN, the particles were discovered in soil samples from Siberian permafrost by Jean-Michel Claverie, an Emeritus professor of medicine and genetics at the Aix-Marseille University School of Medicine in Marseille, France.


Dormant viruses under the frozen layer of soil beneath the earth may emerge when permafrost melts, endangering animal and human health. According to the paper, permafrost spans one-fifth of the Northern Hemisphere.

"The reason permafrost is a suitable storage medium isn't only because it's freezing; it's an oxygen-free environment that light doesn't penetrate." Yet, current Arctic temperatures are warming up to four times faster than the rest of the earth, undermining the region's top layer of permafrost, according to a CNN article.

Claverie reportedly recovered a virus from permafrost in 2014, making it contagious for the first time in 30,000 years by introducing it into grown cells, purportedly inspired by Russian scientists.

Permafrost has been shown to contain trace levels of viruses and bacteria that can infect people. "A lung sample from a woman's body excavated in 1997 from permafrost in a town on Alaska's Seward Peninsula had genetic material from the influenza strain responsible for the 1918 pandemic," CNN said. Scientists discovered in 2012 that the genetic traces of the virus that causes smallpox were present in the 300-year-old mummified bones of a lady buried in Siberia."

Apart from lethal viruses, permafrost thawing can have unforeseen consequences from buried waste from heavy metal and chemical mining, such as the insecticide DDT, which was outlawed in the 2000s.