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An infectious virus has been found frozen alive in permafrost after 48.500 years

Permafrost is a layer of frozen soil, sediment, and rock that remains at or below freezing (0°C or 32°F) for at least two consecutive years. It is found in regions with sub-zero temperatures, typically at high latitudes in the Arctic and subarctic regions and in high-altitude areas. Permafrost is a critical component of the Earth's cryosphere. Its extent and characteristics impact global climate, ecosystems, infrastructure, and human communities. However, with the ongoing effects of global warming, permafrost is melting at an unprecedented rate. This permafrost thawing has severe implications for the environment and the global climate. The thawing of permafrost is a significant feedback loop in the climate system, and its effects can be felt far beyond the areas directly impacted by permafrost. As permafrost thaws, it releases trapped carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect and further exacerbating global warming. Additionally, melting permafrost can cause physical instability of the land, leading to erosion, landslides, and changes in hydrology, which can have severe consequences for human communities and infrastructure in the affected regions.

Permafrost can also contain microorganisms such as viruses that, after lying dormant for ten thousand years, could endanger animal and human health. To better understand the risks of frozen viruses, Jean-Michel Claverie, an Emeritus professor of medicine and genomics at the Aix-Marseille University School of Medicine in Marseille, France, has tested earth samples taken from Siberian permafrost to see whether any viral particles contained therein are still infectious. He's searching for what he describes as "zombie viruses", — and he has found some. In his research recently published in the journal Viruses, Claverie and his team isolated several ancient virus strains from multiple permafrost samples taken from seven different places across Siberia and showed they could each infect cultured amoeba cells. That amoeba-infecting viruses are still infectious after so long, and this can be an indication of a potentially more significant problem. Traces of viruses and bacteria that can infect humans have been previously found preserved in permafrost. A lung sample from a woman's body exhumed in 1997 from permafrost in a village on the Seward Peninsula of Alaska contained genomic material from the influenza strain responsible for the 1918 pandemic. In 2012, scientists confirmed the 300-year-old mummified remains of a woman buried in Siberia had the genetic signatures of the viruses that cause smallpox. Understanding permafrost and its complex interactions with the environment is crucial for mitigating the impacts of climate change and adapting to a changing world. The best course of action would be to try and halt the thaw and the broader climate crisis and keep these hazards entombed in the permafrost for good.