Climate Change: Thawing Permafrost Could Unleash These 6 Prehistoric ‘Zombie Viruses’

Several scientists report that old viruses could resurface due to climate change.

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These viruses have been found in mammoth wool, Siberian mummies, prehistoric wolves and the lungs of a flu victim buried in Alaskan permafrost.

An international team of researchers from Russian, German and French institutions has thus reported to the Daily Mail that “the risk that old viral particles will remain infectious” has been underestimated.

The situation is even more dramatic, since according to these same scientists, the release of these diseases from prehistory could be facilitated by global warming.

The team, which includes experts in genomics, microbiology and geosciences (and some of whom have been tracking these resurrected ‘zombie’ viruses for nearly a decade), published their findings in the journal Viruses last February.

Here are six viruses that scientists have unearthed from the fossil record of rapidly melting permafrost.


In the late 1990s, Swedish pathologist Dr. Johan V. Hultin discovered an influenza virus dating back to 1918 in the lungs of a woman who had died of it.

His discovery shed light on how deadly viruses could be kept in Arctic permafrost, and how these could be released by melting ice.

Pithovirus sibericum

Extracted for the first time from Siberian permafrost in 2014, 30 meters underground, the giant virus Pithovirus sibericum was resurrected by scientists from the University of Aix-Marseille, a virus 30,000 years old.

The fact that these viruses can be fully resuscitated is a bad sign, scientists pointed out in a 2014 study published in the journal PNAS.

Mollivirus sibericum

Mollivirus sibericum has also been found frozen in Siberian permafrost.

Although it is not dangerous to humans, unlike Pithovirus sibericum, its proximity to the latter virus has scientists concerned that permafrost is teeming with undead pathogens.

We cannot rule out that viruses far removed from ancient human (or animal) populations in Siberia may reappear as Arctic permafrost layers melt and/or are disturbed by industrial activities,” scientists said in a 2015 study. published in the magazine PNAS.

Mammoths Pandoravirus and Megavirus

Mammoth Pandoravirus and Mammoth Megavirus were discovered in 27,000-year-old clumps of ice and frozen mammoth wool on the banks of the Yana River in Russia.

Although these two viruses were fortunately unable to infect human and mouse cells, the researchers don’t think there’s time to breathe a sigh of relief yet.

In their article published in the journal Virusesthe scientists write that it is still “legitimate to question the risk that old virus particles will remain infectious and be recirculated by the thawing of old layers of permafrost”.

“Wolf” virus (Pacmanvirus lupus)

An ancient relative of the African swine fever virus, Pacmanvirus lupus was discovered in the intestines of a frozen Siberian wolf 27,000 years ago.

The remains of this Siberian wolf (Canis lupus) were discovered at the same site of the Yana River bed as the two mammoth viruses.

Like other large ancient viruses, the “Wolf” virus is always able to come back to life.


According to the United Nations World Health Organization, smallpox was officially eradicated worldwide in 1980.

But in 2004, French and Russian scientists found smallpox inside a frozen 300-year-old Siberian mummy in the tundra of Russia’s Sakha Republic.

For the authors of the new article published in Virusesthis discovery of smallpox in 2004 shows how severe viral eruptions from melting permafrost can be.

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