The researchers used the virus to infect modern plants. Results of the efforts raise the possibility that global warming might resurrect other infectious viruses.
Due to poor preservation and scarce presence, the knowledge on ancient viruses is limited. Genetic engineering has helped scientists replicate ancient viruses in the past, however. Scientists replicated the virus in the Canadian caribou feces and learned that it has the capability of remaining infectious for centuries, according to Medical News Today.
"We demonstrate that genetic material from ancient viruses associated with caribou fecal matter was cryogenically preserved for at least seven centuries, and that the cloned DNA genome of one of these viruses replicated and spread systematically in an extant plant," Eric Delwart wrote.
According to Capital OTC, "After infecting the plant with the virus, it wasn't apparent for researchers that the infection had indeed been activated, as no symptoms of the disease appeared. Therefore, Delwart decided that, to prove that the plant was infected, genomes of newly-grown leaves should be sequenced. He then detected the viral DNA which had replicated inside the plant cells and isolated it.
"He then noted that the lack of outward symptoms was due to the fact that tobacco had not been the virus' original host. Researchers must yet determine what this original host was. The ancient virus was discovered in a Canadian ice patch where it had remained frozen for such a long time that the viral DNA was still in excellent shape and easy to separate as distinct from the plant DNA.
"Similarly, earlier this year, a French research couple discovered a 30,000-year-old virus frozen in the Siberian tundra. After identifying its initial host, an amoeba, the researchers attempted to see whether the virus was still infectious. When they tested their hypotheses, the amoebae were dying off while the viruses were multiplying."
Scientists fear that as Earth's ice begins to melt and the preserved viruses come back to life, a serious situation could develop.
The study on viruses and ancient caribou feces was published in the journal Proceedings.
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