The Grapevine

Scientists Discover Ancient Viruses In Tibetan Glacier

For the past 15,000 years or so, an ensemble of frozen viruses have been trapped in a glacier on the northwestern Tibetan Plateau of China, with many of them still unknown to modern science.

Recently, however, scientists broke up the millennia-long party by taking a look at the Tibetan glacier’s two ice cores, revealing around 28 new virus groups that we have never seen before. What’s next?

Never-Before-Seen Viruses

According to the scientists who discovered the new types of viruses, investigating these never-before-seen biological agents can help give them an edge in understanding which of these viruses managed to thrive in different climates and environments through a long period of time. The researchers then wrote a paper for the discovery, and published it January 7 on the database of bioRxiv.

"However, in a worst-case scenario, this ice melt [from climate change] could release pathogens into the environment," the researchers wrote in their study, which at the moment still isn’t peer-reviewed. On the off chance that such an event happens, the researchers wrote that knowing as much as it is possible about these viruses can help keep away catastrophic scenarios.

Ancient Viral Research

Studying viruses, especially ones that are already considered ancient, is a very tough job. This is because these ancient microbes can easily be mixed up with modern-day bacteria, which can easily contaminate the entire process. As such, a new protocol for ultraclean microbial and viral sampling had to be made.

In this case, the researchers need to make sure that while the exterior of the ice glacier is contaminated, the inside remains pristine and untouched prior to the study. To access the cores’ inner part, the scientists then had to be in a very cold room, where they can melt and shave a few inches of ice.

From there, the scientists were able to identify around 33 groups of virus genuses, 28 of which are previously unknown to man.

“The microbes differed significantly across the two ice cores, presumably representing the very different climate conditions at the time of deposition,” the researchers, who made the experiment, noted.

Virus Local health officials in China confirmed that an unknown viral pneumonia has been affecting people in the central city of Wuhan. Pixabay