Paleovirology is the study of ancient viruses. Scientists anticipate that by learning more about ancient viruses, they will be able to better understand modern viruses. By looking at the morphology, as well as their genetic makeup, scientists are able to determine most, if not all, of the life cycle of a given ancient virus. Some of these viruses have been found buried deep within the Siberian permafrost, and these viruses have begun opening up the field of paleovirolgy. As the climate continues to change, the permafrost will continue thaw and could potentially reveal other ancient viruses that have yet to be discovered.
Pandoraviruses are essentially ancient viruses with more complex genetic makeup. While most common viruses today contain roughly double-digit numbers of genes (for example: HIV has only 12 genes), these ancient viruses can contain upwards of 500 different genes. These ancient viruses are also much larger than modern viruses, measuring approximately 1.5 microns in length. These pandoraviruses are a glimpse into the prehistoric realm of viruses, and can potentially lead to new discoveries in their contemporaries. To see a comparison of the different shapes and sizes of these pandoraviruses, click here.
The most recent, and still infectious, virus was found within the Siberian permafrost in 2014. This virus is known to be 30,000 years old, and has been found to be still infectious in a laboratory setting. This virus was found to be much larger than many of the other previous ancient viruses that have already been discovered. To see an image of the actual Pithovirus sibericum click here.
Potential dangers and complications
While these viruses are still infectious after 30,000 years in permafrost, their morphology will not allow them to be dangerous to humans in their current state . However, if these viruses were to adapt and mutate, there could be potential issues in the future, but not directly towards humans or animals. These issues would be more dangerous on a microscopic level. It is difficult to say whether or not these viruses could pose a significant threat to organisms, but there is still more information to be learned about these ancient viruses.
Other closely related articles in this wiki include:
- Pappas, S. (2015, September 15). Frozen Giant Virus Still Infectious After 30,000 Years. Accessed October 29, 2015.
- Sirucek, S. (2014, March 3). Ancient “Giant Virus” Revived From Siberian Permafrost. Accessed October 29, 2015.
- Emerman, M., & Harmit, M. (2010, February 9). PLOS Biology: Paleovirology—Modern Consequences of Ancient Viruses. Accessed September 24, 2015.
- What Is Paleovirology? From Paleovirology Online
- The Paleovirology Website Home of the Fossil Record
- The World’s Largest Virus Was Just Resurrected From 34,000-Year-Old Permafrost From the Smithsonian
- Pandoravirus Morphology From the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science
- Ghosts and Gifts from Viruses Past From the National Library of Medicine
- Paleovirology Expanded Via Physics.org
- Inferring Viral Evolution From the National Library of Medicine