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Melting arctic responsible for discovery of fourth ancient, giant virus since 2003 — and more are on the way

melting_alaskaIn this March 29, 2006 photo, a skier poses for a photograph on Portage Lake in front of Portage Glacier, about 50 miles south of Anchorage, Alaska.

Let’s get one thing out of the way really quickly: The ancient, giant virus recently discovered in melting Arctic ice is not going to kill you.

But here’s the bad news: It’s not the first ancient virus that scientists have found frozen — it’s the fourth found since 2003. And you can be sure it won’t be the last. And with climate change causing massive melts, it’s not totally alarmist to suggest that something deadly might one day emerge from a long, icy sleep.

As if climate change didn’t already suck enough, right?

The newly discovered, 30,000-year-old virus is reported in a paper published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Mollivirus sibericum is a whopping .6 microns across, making it what scientists call a giant virus. In addition to towering over modern viruses (and even some bacteria), size-wise, these ancient microbes had a lot more genes.

M. sibericum has more than 500 genes, compared to just 9 in HIV. One of the previously discovered giant viruses, Pandoravirus, has a staggering 2,500 genes. Scientists are still figuring out what that means for a virus, and what it says about the way viruses evolved — and how we should deal with them.


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