A Real Ice Monster


It came from the ice, a monster of unimagined size, and it was alive!

Sounds like the plot from a B grade horror film. But we're actually talking about a thirty thousand year old virus - the biggest virus ever found - recently revived by a group of French scientists. It's comparable to a small bacterium, when usually viruses are eighty to a thousand times smaller! We're lucky it infects amoebas rather than people.

That's actually what researchers used to bait the ancient virus from Siberian permafrost. Named Pithovirus sibericum, this virus has a thick wall with a unique honey comb structure that caps the opening. It's unusually hollow, with far less genetic information compared with a typical virus which is jammed packed. And, only a third of its proteins are similar to those of other viruses.

This isn't the first giant virus discovered. One was found in water samples from Chile in 2003, another in Australia, and in 2013 the DNA of a giant virus called Marseillevirus was found in the lymph node of an eleven month old boy. Doctors removed the inflamed lymph node and fortunately he recovered in a year. The same virus has also been detected in seemingly healthy blood donors, so the Marseillevirus's role in disease is a bit murky.

As for the newest virus ' the interesting question is whether global warming could revive other dormant viruses and pose a future threat. Even so, we'd be far more preoccupied with cities under water than a few giant viruses.

More Information

Giant virus resurrected from 30,000-year-old ice
"Largest virus yet discovered hints at viral diversity trapped in permafrost."

30,000 year-old giant virus found in Siberia
"A new type of giant virus called "Pithovirus" has been discovered in the frozen ground of extreme north-eastern Siberia. Buried underground, this giant virus, which is harmless to humans and animals, has survived being frozen for more than 30,000 years."

Secrets of the Giant, Ancient, Frozen, Killer Virus
"Strange things are slumbering in the permafrost ' and some of them are able to wake up"