Really old frozen permafrost critters revived. What could possibly go wrong?

This is creepy. At National Post I see a story about some folks who revived a bunch of moss and microbes from hundreds of years ago that lay frozen under a glacier. Yeah… it’s growing. And they found wormy things, nematodes.

Yeah, they’re alive too.

My mind has immediately gone to that dark place shaped by reading lots of St. Augustine and dystopian fiction.

What could possibly go wrong?


Tatiana Vishnivetskaya has studied ancient microbes long enough to make the extreme feel routine. A microbiologist at the University of Tennessee, Vishnivetskaya drills deep into the Siberian permafrost to map the web of single-celled organisms that flourished ice ages ago. She has coaxed million-year-old bacteria back to life on a petri dish. They look “very similar to bacteria you can find in cold environments (today),” she said.

But last year, Vishnivetskaya’s team announced an “accidental finding” – one with a brain and nervous system – that shattered scientists’ understanding of extreme endurance.


Even her name is from a dystopian novel.

I really liked the part about…. “Oooops! Hey, look what we found! You know, it’s nearly impossible to kill this stuff.”


Tracer slipped the creased photo out of the taco-sauce stained manila envelope, feeling the weight inside of a thick, banded packs of Benjamins.

“Help us, Tracer Bullet. You’re our only hope.”

He signaled with three fingers to the guy in the wife-beater on the other side of what passed for the bar on the seedier edge of one of the seedier towns he ever seen. In front of him were three chipped shot glasses. Empty. Not empty for long.

Not full for long either.

The barkeep heaved himself in Tracer’s direction, uncorking the bottle and leaving it on the stained wood, etched with generations of knife-pointed initials and impossible suggestions.

“He’s gotta be here somewhere.”

At a university lab one of the grad-students bumped the wrong thing and probably got infected with a strain of an ancient super-bug revived in some worms found in permafrost somewhere. It was now a race. A few pencil-necks thought up the great idea of reviving stuff that had disappeared thousands of years ago and that, if it got out of the lab, it could kill, maybe 95% of human life.

“Maybe less,” she said over the phone. “We’ll know in a week or so when the symptoms manifest. You’ve gotta find him, Tracer. It’s gotta be you. Really, we can’t… tell anyone about this. There are … complications.”

He muttered to himself, filling the glasses with a continual crossing pour.

“Who thinks this **** up? Hey, look! Ancient worms that thousands of years under rock crushing ice can’t kill! Let’s wake ’em up and see what happens!”

“He’s gotta be here somewhere. Question is…. why did he run?”

For a moment he stared at the ribbons of liquid spreading out from the glassware, disappearing down into the cuts and cracks as it ran away.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Well, it is the centennial of the Spanish Flu epidemic. I recall reading or listening to an interesting article about some research project a few years ago that included searching for (and finding!) isolated graves & human bodies from that period that had salvageable cell tissue – first chance to isolate the actual virus from that time for study by modern methods.

  2. What could possibly go wrong? I’m sure they have it under control, right?

    Nothing to see here…move along…

  3. HyacinthClare says:

    Top. Men.

  4. veritas vincit says:

    At least Tracer Bullet is on the case!

  5. cajunpower says:

    When I read of stuff like this, I always think of the Tower of Babel.

  6. Dismas says:

    Meh. We have critters a mile or more under rock beneath these critters, ones that never became inactive. It’s pretty crazy what life does, but one thing is certain – the arms race never stopped, and these guys have been out of the game for a long time.

  7. iPadre says:

    What else is hidden there? Bubonic plague…

  8. APX says:


    The bubonic plague is alive and well. There was a deadly outbreak in Madagascar and a boy in Idaho was treated for it some time ago.

  9. Cafea Fruor says:

    iPadre, no need to dig into permafrost for the plague. The bacteria that causes it still exists, though cases of people getting the plague are really rare in the U.S. It’s more common in Africa, Asia, and South America.

  10. MikePh says:

    Tatiana Vishnivetskaya is a collegue of Dr Cortezar (see Expanse series). They have found the “protomolecule” on earth. Oh deary me!

  11. GHP says:

    “…For a moment he stared at the ribbons of liquid spreading out from the glassware, disappearing down into the cuts and cracks as it ran away….”

    So where is the follow-on chapter? I like the way you write, Father ….. please publish!!

    Ranger 14-80

  12. THREEHEARTS says:

    mike hurcum
    So many times I have been told I live too far outside the box. I think on such esoteric subjects as evolution. I am amazed a woman professor finds a worm with a brain and a nervous system, Reminds me of the psalms, “I am a worm and no man”. Personally I would rather come from a worm than a monkey. Many saints had the same feeling. Many claimed to be a worm. Ask any acupuncturist, any chiropractor and they readily admit our vertebrate is more worm like than an ape. I call to your attention the effect of thalidomide of pregnant women where the genes that grow feet and arms did not develop, The cases in the southern states where children were born with no arm. Watch the movies on the development of babies in the womb, So then why not worms?

  13. Semper Gumby says:

    Hyacinth Clare wrote: “Top. Men.” Classic.

    GHP said it well, great writing Fr. Z.

    “…reading lots of St. Augustine and dystopian fiction.”

    Not a chapter, but here’s a few more paragraphs.

    Tracer tucked the manila envelope inside his trenchcoat, tossed a twenty on the bar and headed for the door. The lights flickered and went out. A flashlight came on behind the bar. The barkeep punched some numbers into a keypad on the wall and the lights flickered back on.

    Tracer looked at the barkeep. “Hey pal, what gives?”

    “Rolling blackouts.” The barkeep jerked a thumb at a framed photo of a surly, cadaverous-looking fellow. “The Governor is my third cousin, my lights stay on,” he bragged. The barkeep squinted at Tracer, “Say, you’re not from around here, Mac.” The barkeep reached for his cellphone.

    Tracer put on his fedora and pushed open the door, “It’s been awhile.”

    San Francisco at night. A city where everyone talked about Paradise and everyone was miserable. The streetlights were on, half the buildings were dark. Across Kearny Street stretched a banner: “Nancy Pelosi is Our Joy.” A car occasionally rolled by- gas rationing kept traffic jams to a minimum. As he walked Tracer noticed the sidewalks were littered with needles, feces, and clumps of garbage.

    Tracer paused at the corner. A poster plastered on a building declared: The Governor Builds Our Path Through Gestures. Out in the Bay the foghorn from the Alcatraz Island Re-education Camp moaned in the damp evening air. A bus roared by, the ad on the side proclaiming: Trixie’s Paradise For The Best Sex Workers. Tracer thought, nope, Dante never set foot in that place and Trixie was no Beatrice.

    He crossed over to Pacific Avenue and headed east, away from Chinatown towards the Embarcadero and the docks. As he walked he pulled out a pack of Lucky Strikes. At the flick of the match a bundle on the sidewalk stirred and sat up.

    “Hey buddy, how ’bout a cig?”

    “Sure, pal.” Tracer tossed him one and a box of matches.
    The bundle was a gaunt middle-aged man, or maybe he was twenty, covered in a tarp. A stale odor wafted up as the man fumbled through his belongings for an old ballcap to cover his greasy hair. The man lit the cigarette, leaned back against the building, and closed his eyes. Tracer thought he fell asleep. He stepped away.

    “Where you goin’? Ain’t nothin’ else to do.”

    “The docks,” said Tracer. “Gotta meet a friend and go to work.”

    The man chuckled. “Work? Don’t do that to yourself.”

    Tracer chuckled politely. “I’m helping a friend.”

    The two men looked as across the street a window shattered in a hipster cafe and a body thudded against the pavement. Several black-clad people wearing ski masks climbed through the broken window and began kicking whoever was lying on the sidewalk. Ballcap guy shrugged and took another drag.

    “Someone is building our path through gestures,” Tracer observed.

    Ballcap guy stared at Tracer. Then he recited, “Living members of the People’s Republic of California must observe the rules.”

    Tracer handed the man a cigarette, tipped his hat, and walked away.

    “Hey, mister.”

    Tracer turned around.

    “If you goin’ to the docks stay away from Maritime Plaza. They crazy there tonight. Go up Battery.”

    Tracer tipped his hat again. As he walked away he wondered if Ballcap Guy would find tomorrow morning the Lord’s Prayer folded up and tucked into the matchbox.

    Ahead of Tracer, near the docks, came the sound of sirens. From Market Street off to the south came the crackle of gunfire.

    As he approached Battery Tracer recalled something a newspaperman wrote about San Francisco in the 1940s, he called the city Baghdad by the Bay. Regardless, time to go to work. A few days ago in Chicago, before he boarded the California Zephyr for ‘Frisco, the Chief told Tracer: Moscow Rules.

  14. APX says:

    This sounds like an episode of the X Files:

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