Giant virus pulled from Siberian permafrost found to be still active

By Kyle Johnson,

A virus pulled from the Siberian permafrost was found to be still active and was dubbed a "giant virus."

The virus, called Pithovirus sibericum, was pulled from the ice and found to still be viable after examination in a lab. The virus has been called "giant" because it is about 1.5 micrometers in length and 0.5 micrometers in width, reports National Geographic, making it much larger than normal viruses.

Jean-Michel Claverie and Chantal Abergel, who led the team who discovered the virus and posted their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said in an e-mail, "'Giant' viruses are loosely defined as the ones that you can see under a regular microscope."

They are also much more complex organisms, as the Pithovirus has 500 genes and a previously discovered Pandovirus has 2,500. The difference is quite noticeable in comparison to the HIV virus, which only has 12 genes.

According to Nature, the virus remnant had been sitting in the ice for 30,000 years. The discovery of the Pithovirus has some worried about what others viruses could be uncovered as ice continues to melt. The virus is still able to infect, though the Pithovirus only targets amoebae - as do most giant viruses.

A virologist Curtis Suttle, not affiliated with the team, said that though Claverie and Abergel expressed their worry over the possibility of how new viruses could affect our health, she noted that it likely wouldn't happen and "stretches scientific rationality to the breaking point."



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