As the global temperatures rises leading to rapid melting of permafrost in the Russian Tundra, scientists have stumbled upon cells infected with a 30,000 year old virus. The ancient virus of extraordinary size has been found and activated.

The virus has been christened as Pithovirus Sibericum and affects amoeba but not human or mouse cells. As the name suggests, the virus looks just like an earthenware jar and is so large that it is visible under an optical microscope. The virus was discovered by a group of researchers from Aix-Marseille University.

The virus was located in 98 foot deep sample permafrost off the East Siberia Sea coast. The discovery also leads to the frightening specter mankind facing harmful pathogens long dormant and its immune system no longer capable to fight it.

Study co-author Jean-Michel Claverie, a bioinformatics researcher at Aix-Marseille University in France, told LiveScience in an email, “There is now a non-zero probability that the pathogenic microbes that bothered [ancient human populations] could be revived and most likely infects us as well. Those pathogens could be banal bacteria (curable with antibiotics) or resistant bacteria or nasty viruses. If they have been extinct for a long time, then our immune system is no longer prepared to respond to them.”

Global warming has thawed the permafrost in new areas like Claverie where oil and mining companies have started prospecting for oil. Already experts are worried that diseases which were rampant in both Neanderthals and humans could become active again and infect their modern-day counterparts.

On the other hand there is a class of opinion which negates any such doomsday scenario. They reason that humans are swamped by millions of viruses we should be more concerned by the rising water level in oceans than worrying about some long dormant exotic virus.

The study was published March 3 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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