Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Cells of the Mollivirus sibericum, a virus that was buried deep in the Siberian permafrost for over 30,000 years, is thought to be the newest representative of what are loosely known as "giant viruses." (Photo: Enhanced/AFP) 

Researchers Warn Melting Permafrost May Awaken 'Giant Viruses'

The researchers plan to 'wake up' the 30,000-year-old giant virus, but not until they verify that the bug cannot cause animal or human disease

Deirdre Fulton

Yet another giant prehistoric virus has been unearthed in the frozen tundra of Siberia, where scientists warn climate change is melting the permafrost and awakening potentially dangerous microscopic pathogens. 

Reporting this week in the flagship journal of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, French researchers announced the discovery of Mollivirus sibericum, found in the permafrost of northern Russia.

"We cannot rule out that distant viruses of ancient Siberian human populations could re-emerge as Arctic permafrost layers melt and/or are disrupted by industrial activities."
—French researchers, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science

The researchers plan to "wake up" the 30,000-year-old "Frankenvirus," but not until they verify that the bug cannot cause animal or human disease.

As climate change warms Arctic and sub-Arctic regions at more than twice the global average, permafrost is becoming less permanent. Last year, the same team of French virus-hunters discovered another giant virus strainPithovirus sibericum, in the same sample of Arctic permafrost.

As the authors of the study said in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, "the fact that two different viruses could be easily revived from prehistoric permafrost should be of concern in [the] context of global warming."

Noting that Mollivirus sibericum is the fourth such virus to be discovered, they added: "Our finding suggests that prehistory 'live' viruses are not a rare occurrence." Further, they warned, "we cannot rule out that distant viruses of ancient Siberian human populations could re-emerge as Arctic permafrost layers melt and/or are disrupted by industrial activities."

And one of the lead researchers, Jean-Michel Claverie, told Agence France Presse: "If we are not careful, and we industrialize these areas without putting safeguards in place, we run the risk of one day waking up viruses such as small pox that we thought were eradicated."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

ACLU Demands 'Truly Systemic Overhaul' of US Civilian Harm Policies

"While a serious Defense Department focus on civilian harm is long overdue and welcome, it's unclear that this directive will be enough," says director of the legal group's National Security Project.

Jessica Corbett ·


'This Is Not Over': Alaska Supreme Court Rejects Youth Climate Case

"With the state continuing to undermine their health, safety, and futures," said the plaintiffs' lead counsel, "we will evaluate our next steps and will continue to fight for climate justice."

Jessica Corbett ·


Analysis Finds 'Staggering' Rise in Voter Suppression After GOP Restrictions in Georgia

"This is why we are fighting this new law in court," said one voting rights advocate.

Brett Wilkins ·


'Egregious': Pennsylvania Court Strikes Down Mail-In Voting Law

The ruling was stayed pending an appeal to the state's Supreme Court and as one voting advocate put it: "The fight's not over yet, folks."

Julia Conley ·


Big Win for Open Internet as Court Upholds California Net Neutrality Law

One legal advocate called the Ninth Circuit's opinion "a great decision and a major victory for internet users in California and nationwide."

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo