Scientists have raised concerns about the threat of ancient viruses trapped in the Arctic permafrost being released due to Earth’s warming climate. These viruses, known as Methuselah microbes or zombie viruses, could cause a major disease outbreak if unleashed. Researchers have already isolated these viruses in Siberia and warned that they could infect humans and start new disease outbreaks. The permafrost, covering a large part of the northern hemisphere, has been kept at freezing temperatures for thousands of years and could contain viruses up to a million years old, posing a risk to which humans have no immunity.
Climate change is causing the melting of the permafrost and increasing human activities in the Arctic, such as shipping and industrial development, which could release these pathogens into the environment. Scientists are calling for the establishment of an Arctic monitoring network to identify early cases of infections caused by ancient micro-organisms and provide local medical treatment to contain any potential outbreaks. The disappearance of Arctic sea ice is particularly concerning, as it is allowing for increased shipping, traffic, and industrial development in the region. The potential release of these ancient viruses poses a tangible threat and highlights the need for preparedness to deal with the situation.