mysterious and ancient viruses released from a Tibetan glacier

Frozen lands and The glaciers appear as inert environments, immobilized by the cold. But they keep in them all kinds of traces of the past, especially microorganisms. Microbiologists from Ohio University have unearthed bacteria and their phages, viruses that infect only bacteria, some 14,000 years old from the Guliya Glacier in Tibet.

Getting these ancient microorganisms to speak is not easy, but scientists have been able to deduce some information from their genes. Obviously, these viruses and bacteria, all unique, proliferated in extreme environments. The phages discovered were specialists in infections in cold climates. They lived in symbiosis with plants or in the soil and therefore are not able to infect animals.

Should we fear the release of pathogenic viruses with the melting of permafrost? Decryption

This information is invaluable for paleobiologists who are interested in past climates, but also for other scientists who are looking more towards the future. With the global warming and the massive melting of glaciers, microorganisms like these will be freed from the ice, some of which could be pathogenic to the life that developed during their dormancy.

The two microbiologists from Ohio University during the inspection of an ice core taken in 2015 from the Guliya Glacier. © Lonnie Thompson

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