Scientists to resurrect 30,000-year-old virus to show climate change danger

9 Sep 2015

While it might seem like a terrifying concept, scientists are about to bring a 30,000-year-old virus back from the dead in Siberia as a warning about the effects of climate change.

The team of French researchers who discovered the 30,000-year-old virus said Mollivirus sibericum, as it has been dubbed, is a gargantuan compared to its modern-day descendants with a length of 0.6 microns.

This puts it in the category of a giant virus as one that exceeds a length of 0.5 microns, or one-thousandth of a millimetre, and the team has detailed its findings in the journal PNAS.

M. sibericum is the fourth prehistoric virus to have been discovered since 2003, half of which were discovered by the French team who are now looking to bring the virus back to life in what would appear to be a plot from a horror film.

It is also significantly more complex than viruses of today with M. sibericum shown to have more than 500 genes, compared with the common Influenza A virus, which only has eight.

Climate change and mining could dig up a killer virus

However, according to, the researchers are not looking to restart a killer virus but rather want to put it through vigorous testing to make sure that it cannot be harmful to current life.

The bigger concern, the team said, is the potential harm that climate change will have on regions like Siberia where viruses could be unleashed by melting ice.

Equally as harmful is the mining that has gone on in the area due to its large deposits of valuable minerals, but which could effectively give new life to a potentially lethal virus, such as M. sibericum.

“If we are not careful, and we industrialise 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,” said of the lead researchers, Jean-Michel Claverie.

Giant virus image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic