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Ancient Viruses Buried in Tibetan Glaciers for 15,000 Years Discovered by Scientists

Image for representation. (AFP)

Image for representation. (AFP)

Scientists have discovered 28 previously unknown virus groups in the glaciers and have expressed concern that climate change might unleash them into environment again.

  • News18.com
  • Last Updated: January 23, 2020, 5:55 PM IST
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As many as 28 new (or should we say old) parasites that have been frozen in ancient Tibetan glaciers have finally been discovered by a team of scientists, thanks to climate change.

The discovery is could cause havoc in terms of health emergencies as these ancient viruses have been in hiding under ice for thousands of years, meaning contemporary scientists and researchers have no idea of the potential they could have on humans.

Unknown to modern science, these ancient viruses have been trapped in the glaciers of the northwestern Tibetan Plateau of China. A group of scientists from the United States and China collected samples from the glaciers core after drilling in for about 50 meters in 2015. The two ice cores that were so obtained from inside the frozen mass then went through a three-step decontamination process before scientists analysed them using microbiology techniques for identifying hidden microbes in the samples.

Results of the study, which was published it the pre-print server bioRxiv, found 28 new groups of parasites previously unknown to the world burrowing deep in the ice. And the more worrying part? melting glaciers as a s response to climate change could expose these viruses to humans in the 21st century.

Not just the fear of impact, climate change is also causing troves of data regarding such microbial life-forms to deteriorate, affecting scientists' abilities to properly catalog such data for study.

"At a minimum, [ice melt] could lead to the loss of microbial and viral archives that could be diagnostic and informative of past Earth climate regimes," the paper wrote, adding, "However, in a worst-case scenario, this ice melt could release pathogens into the environment."

What is the importance of studying these microbes? According to the scientists, it "provides a first window into viral genomes and their ecology from glacier ice...and emphasizes their likely impact on abundant microbial groups" today.

Viruses are the cause for many of the major epidemics and pandemics that the Earth has witnessed so far. Understanding of viruses as well as their evolutionary history and composition may help in tackling them and mitigating their deadly impact on humans and animals.

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