A sample of frozen Siberian soil has revealed that a giant virus, visible through a light microscope, retained its potency despite being frozen for thousands of years.
The virus, pithovirus sibericum, attacked single-cell organisms despite having not done any infecting for a few hundred centuries.
Jean-Michel Claverie, an evolutionary biologist at Aix Marseille-University, is worried because it means that there might be a life-threatening amount of viruses lurking within the Earth's frozen soil layers, waiting patiently to be unleashed by melting Arctic ice. “We might be able to eradicate viruses from the surface of the planet," Claverie says, "but that doesn't mean that there isn't a single particle of that virus still alive somewhere.”
So as if we weren't worried about climate change enough, let's take a look at a few of the viruses that would put a complete downer on everything were they to return.
This one was a creep, a blink-and-you'll-miss-me virus with a nine-month lifespan (November 2002 – 2003). Conspiracy theories are rife that it was a hoax, but if it was real at least Louis Vuitton can start making those rather fetching masks again and we can all look fabulous while we're expiring.
This one's only recently retired – the last infection was recorded in 1977. It used to kill 400,000 Europeans ever year, including five reigning monarchs in the 18th century (even the rich and powerful ain't safe). Makes you look like you've been sleeping in nettles for a few years.
THE BLACK DEATH
Speculation abounds that the Black Death, mother of all things miserable between 1348 and 1350, was caused by a strain of the Ebola virus. It's the most devastating pandemic to strike mankind, killing an estimated 150 million people by making their skin turn black and drop off. If this virus ever comes back, make sure you've got some great boxsets and plenty of tinned food: you're not going outside for a couple of years.
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