Should the discovery of an infectious virus in the permafrost worry us? Scientists have uncovered a so-called ‘giant virus’ in permafrost that has melted as a result of progressive climate change. The virus, Pithovirus sibericum, was isolated from melted samples of Siberian permafrost and was able to infect amoebas even after being frozen for thousands of years. Could ancient human pathogens also be uncovered and pose a public health? The answer is: probably not.

Although there are probably plenty of extinct microorganisms and viruses preserved in permafrost, it’s unlikely that human pathogens would exist in a high enough density to infect anyone. Instead, we should be excited that a new opportunity has arisen to study evolution using ancient viruses literally frozen in time.

For discussions in the media:

For further reading, the technical discovery article can be found here:

Special thanks to Ann Fiegen from the Harvard Virology program for her prospective and knowledge on the topic!

Scanning electron micrograph of the ‘Giant’ virus Pithovirus sibericum. Image from Wikimedia Commons: