Who knew? Reviving ancient viruses by disturbing permafrost.

Because we didn’t have enough to worry about.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) – The discovery has sparked concern that increased mining and oil drilling in rapidly warming northern latitudes could widely deploy the virus into the earth’s atmosphere.

The ancient virus appears to belong to a new family of mega-viruses that infect only amoeba. [At first.] Its revival in a laboratory stands as “a proof of principle that we could eventually resurrect active infectious viruses from different periods,” the study’s lead author, microbiologist Jean-Michel Claverie of Aix-Marseille University in France, says.

“We know that those non-dangerous viruses are alive there, which probably is telling us that the dangerous kind that may infect humans and animals — that we think were eradicated from the surface of Earth — are actually still present and eventually viable, in the ground,” Claverie said.

As climate change makes northern reaches more accessible, the chance of disturbing dormant human pathogens increases. Surface temperatures in the area that previously contained the virus have increased substantially in more temperate latitudes, researchers noted.

“People will go there; they will settle there, and they will start mining and drilling,” Claverie said. “Human activities are going to perturb layers that have been dormant for 3 million years and may contain viruses.

We cannot definitely say that there are some human pathogens in there,” Claverie’s co-author, Chantal Abergel says. She cautioned that their finding is limited to one innocuous virus infecting an amoeba. They will reexamine the drill core samples, Abergel said, to “find out if there is anything there that is dangerous to humans and animals.”

Scientists thawed the virus, dubbed Pithovirus sibericum, and watched it replicate in a culture in a Petri dish. The virus infected an amoeba, a simple single-cell organism.

Viruses can survive being locked up in the permafrost for extremely long periods, according to a statement released by France’s National Center for Scientific Research.

“It has important implications for public-health risks in connection with exploiting mineral or energy resources in Arctic Circle regions that are becoming more and more accessible through global warming,” it said.  [Global warming… right.]

“The revival of viruses that are considered to have been eradicated, such as the smallpox virus, whose replication process is similar to that of Pithovirus, is no longer limited to science fiction,” the statement continued. “The risk that this scenario could happen in real life has to be viewed realistically.”

“The virus infected an amoeba, a simple single-cell organism.”

Yah… that’s how it starts.   Then it infects another kind of petri dish: really bad movies.


Movie trivia: The new Doctor of Doctor Who, Peter Capaldi, had a role in the really bad World War Z as, I am not making this up, “W.H.O. Doctor”.  Who knew?

In the meantime, I sense a new twist in the novel.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. jasoncpetty says:

    I sense a new twist in the novel.

    See the last scene of the 2010 film Contagion. Deforestation forces the bat out of its habitat, it infects the pig, the pig is dressed at a restaurant, the chef shakes hands with the first victim of the pandemic.

  2. Tony Layne says:

    Captain Trips may be waiting for us in the Arctic? And we’re still gonna drill up there? I really am convinced that pride and greed together will undo us all.

  3. pseudomodo says:

    Oh boy! GMH (Genetically Modified Humans) to the rescue. I’m sure that Stem Cell research can help combat this in some way.

    On another subject – is Soylent Green meat?

  4. wmeyer says:

    Uh huh… As climate change makes northern reaches more accessible, the chance of disturbing dormant human pathogens increases.

    It’s the new case for give-us-all-your-money-so-we-can-stop-global-climate-change.

    Hubris, pure hubris.

  5. Nicholas Shaler says:

    Father Z,

    You forgot something important,


    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  6. iPadre says:

    I watched the video on Youtube and then clicked on the airplane crash from the movie. Oh my gosh! Enough to make my neck crack from the stress.

  7. Sonshine135 says:

    I place stuff like this in God’s hands. Thy will be done, because there is certainly not anything I can do about it (outside of washing my hands). If not from the permafrost, then what about an asteroid that falls to Earth from space with some form of alien virus. Viruses have been discovered on Mars. Why couldn’t it happen?

  8. incredulous says:

    Loons insist global warming is a reality. Talk about the Big Lie. Also, G*d has a wonderful sense of humor. And the voice thundered, “You still are going to insist there’s global warming?” “I’ll show you… ”

    Also there’s my mother who keeps telling me that her favorite book title is “Everything you needed to know you learned in Kindergarten.” So, thinking back to those days, I knew hot meant hot, and cold meant cold. Now, the knotheads tell us that evidence of global warming is the fact that it is unseasonably cold.

    Lefties are just evil.

  9. Jack Hughes says:

    I find the dogmatism of global warming fanatics amusing, I was in Wisconsin over Christmas and New Year and we had about a couple of feet worth of snow (beautiful, although I wouldn’t want to drive in it) and we found it amusing when below the Mason -Dixon line everyone was panicking over what was by comparison a light dusting.

    I was talking to my Father a few nights ago and he said that now they can’t see the road from the front Porch because the snow bank is so high and he’s worried because roundabout now the thaw SHOULD be starting, but there’s no letup in the snow. Fortunately they have a huge larder which is always stuffed with non-perishables.

  10. Unwilling says:

    A technical point that might lesson the concern.
    Viruses spontaneously mutate into slightly different forms eventually very different forms.
    This is why the HIV is so hard to defend against — it is a fast changer.
    Some virus shapes cause grief for other viruses, bacteria, amoebae, cats, humans.
    There are gazillions of viruses in us or passing through all the time. And mutating.
    It is like you are caught in a hailstorm. Dodging always into the path of other hail.
    If somebody throws ice chips out of a high window…

    maybe the concern has more to do with preventing oil exploration for energy independence.

  11. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Wazzamatta? These guys never watched X-Files?

  12. You laugh. But all us amoebas are worried.

  13. LarryW2LJ says:

    Sounds like another Liberal cause celebre to me.
    Global Warming
    Rain Forest deforestation
    Acid rain
    You name ’em – the hits keep coming.
    Not saying that some of this has its place – but it seems Liberals like to do nothing but worry. As Sonshine135 says, “I place stuff like this in God’s hands.” Unfortunately, Liberals can’t do that, their pride gets in the way.

  14. Lynn Diane says:

    Speaking as a microbiologist, all this scare talk sounds very silly. We’re surrounded 24/7 by huge clouds of viruses that infect bacteria but are genetically unable to infect humans no matter how they mutate. In Eastern Europe some of these viruses are used therapeutically to kill bacteria harmful to humans right in the human body. The West is taking a fresh look at this older technology as more bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. I’m amazed that the ancient amoeba-infecting virus was reportedly revived. Generally this is impossible so I’m not yet convinced this actually happened, at least by natural processes, and will wait for further details. This could turn out to be quite beneficial for humans infected with amoebae (generally a very serious infection). We may be able turn these amoeba-destroying viruses loose and let them save human lives. :)

  15. SKAY says:

    Unwilling –
    maybe the concern has more to do with preventing oil exploration for energy independence”

    Al Gore is probably already working on a new propaganda “documentary” sanctioned and mandated by Common Core to be shown to all students

  16. JonPatrick says:

    Of course the term is no longer “global warming” but “climate change”, to get around the inconvenient perception that things have been a little cold lately.

    There does seem to be evidence that the earth has warmed slightly over the last 100 years, the last 15 years or so being an anomaly. The argument is over whether this is a natural phenomenon or is due to man made causes. Short of having a duplicate earth where we could try all of the various schemes for combating greenhouse gas, etc. then seeing what happens, there is no way to prove this. There seems to be a need among those of a progressive bent to believe in Anthropogenic Global Warming because it fits nicely with other desires of theirs such as destroying the free market capitalist system, moving to a more centralized governmental structure, and so on.

  17. incredulous says:

    When somebody says “this is the second coldest winter on record” or “this is the 5th consecutive abnormally hot summer on record since 1870” what does it really mean? It’s not proof of any sort of warming or cooling, it’s simply proof that well before mass population and CO2 emissions we had abnormally hot summers and abnormally cold winters.

    The steadfast nature of the Big Lie is the only solid evidence in the entire climate debate and it demonstrates we are under a propaganda siege for obvious reasons (the desire to control, oppress and to enslave the masses).

  18. robtbrown says:

    From a political cartoon by Glenn McCoy

    Global Warming (Climate Change . . . whatever) causes:

    Very warm weather
    Very cold weather
    Falling autumn leaves
    Falling Presidential approval ratings
    Warming on Mars
    Squirrel attacks
    Balding Climate Scientists not able to get dates.


    IMHO, GW is apocalyptic fundamentalism without Scripture. The End of the World is Near!

  19. happyCatholic says:

    Tina in Ashburn,

  20. bookworm says:

    AGW is possibly the only hypothesis in the history of modern science that cannot be disproven. If it’s hotter than usual — global warming. If it’s colder than usual, well, that’s global warming too (because it disrupted the polar jet stream). If an expedition to show how quickly the polar ice caps are melting gets stranded IN THE ICE…. global warming did it (melting ice made the ocean colder and caused it to freeze up). Droughts are due to global warming, floods are due to global warming, tornadoes (or lack thereof) are due to global warming, hurricanes (or lack thereof) are due to global warming… you get the picture.

  21. Gladiatrix says:

    I find this display of historical and medical illiteracy by a microbiologist very worrying. It has been known for centuries that anthrax and the plague can survive in the ground; the staying power of anthrax has been a problem for cattle farmers for as long as anyone can remember. The ability of the plague to survive is the reason why building on plague pit sites was banned for 300 years in the UK, although it was immediately flouted in the City of London when Aldgate East was built. That ban didn’t expire until the 1970s.

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