Dinosaur flu. Melting glaciers could lead to another pandemic
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Arctic lake analysis indicates viruses and bacteria in ice could reawaken and infect the wild.
New data suggests that the next pandemic may not come from bats or birds, but from substances in melting ice. Genetic analysis of soil and lake sediments from Hazen, the highest freshwater lake, suggests that the risk of virus spread may be higher near melting glaciers.
Viruses and bacteria are trapped in glaciers. But as global temperatures rise due to climate change, they may wake up again. This is especially possible due to the fact that their range is also shifting closer to the poles, writes The Gurdian.
An example of this spread was the outbreak of anthrax in northern Siberia in 2016. Its appearance is explained by a heat wave that melted the carcass of an infected reindeer from the permafrost. To better understand the risk posed by frozen viruses, Stephan Aris-Brosou and her colleagues at the University of Ottawa in Canada collected soil and sediment samples from Lake Hazen. By sequencing RNA and DNA to identify signatures matching those of known viruses, an algorithm was run to evaluate the chances of these viruses to identify unrelated groups of organisms.
A study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B found that the risk of virus transmission to new hosts was higher in areas that received large amounts of meltwater. And this is similar to the situation with global warming.
Recent studies have shown that unknown viruses can remain in glaciers. Last year, researchers at Ohio State University in the US announced they had found the genetic material of 33 viruses, 28 of which are new. They were seen in ice samples from the Tibetan plateau in China. The age of viruses has been estimated at about 15,000 years. And in 2014, scientists at the French National Center for Scientific Research in Aix-Marseille were able to revive a virus from Siberian permafrost, making it contagious for the first time in 30,000 years. Study author Jean-Michel Claverie told the BBC that exposing such layers of ice could be “a recipe for disaster.”
At the same time, the Aris-Bros team warned that predicting a high risk of spread is not a prediction of actual spread effects. Therefore, as long as there are no viruses and their “carriers” in the environment, the probability of dramatic events is low. In addition, climate change is predicted to change the range of existing species, potentially bringing new hosts into contact with ancient viruses or bacteria.
But whether this will lead to a new pandemic is unknown. In the near future, scientists will devote their efforts to studying all the microbial worlds of our planet.