Even as the world has moved on from the horrors of the coronavirus pandemic, humanity is staring at a possible epidemic that may put a fullstop on the much needed covid recovery around the globe. Researchers have been busy studying the zombie viruses in Russia.
There are possible pathogens that can survive the permafrost posing threat to humans who cannot be immune to these viruses nor have drugs to treat them.
Jean-Michel Claverie holds the title of emeritus professor at Aix-Marseille University’s School of Medicine. His discoveries bring to light the grim reality of global warming as it thaws ground which has been frozen since thousands of years.
Jean-Michel, 73, has spent more than ten years studying “giant” viruses which includes ones that are nearly 50,000 years old and were found deep within layers of Siberian permafrost.
Scientists have been predicting the possibility of the Arctic being ice-free by the summers of 2030s since the planet is already 1.2C warmer than the pre-industrial times.
There have been concerns related to the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that are trapped like methane. The danger of dormant pathogens are explored less.
A research was published last year by Claverie’s team which mentioned that they’d extracted multiple ancient viruses from the Siberian permafrost and all of them remained infectious.
In an interview at his laboratory located on the Luminy campus of Aix-Marseille University in France, Claverie pointed out, ‘Traditionally, we associate climate change dangers with threats originating from the south, such as the spread of vector-borne diseases from warmer tropical regions.
However, it has become increasingly apparent that there could be emerging risks from the north due to the thawing of permafrost, releasing microbes, bacteria, and viruses.’
The threatening ways of this are still emerging. Anthrax spores were activated by a heat wave in Siberia in the summer of 2016 which led to dozens of infections. Thousands of reindeer and a child died in the spread of infection.
A separate team of scientists published their findings in July this year. The findings showed that even multicellular organisms could survive permafrost conditions in an inactive metabolic state which is called cryptobiosis.
The scientists successfully reanimated a 46,000-year-old roundworm from the Siberian permafrost, just by re-hydrating it.
“It holds great significance in the sense that we have the capability to halt life and subsequently initiate it once more,” states Teymuras Kurzchalia, a professor emeritus at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, who played a role in the research. This suggests that certain living organisms possess an inherent ability to reduce or temporarily pause their metabolic functions.
Global health agencies and governments have been monitoring for unknown infectious diseases for several years.
These are diseases which humans would neither have immunity against nor drug therapies. In 2017 the World Health Organization added a generic “Disease X” to a shortlist of pathogens which are considered a top priority for research. WHO aims to develop a roadmap to prevent or contain an epidemic that can be caused by these pathogens.
The efforts have intensified after the world was shut down by the deadly Covid-19 virus.