Scientists from US and China have discovered over 30 ancient viruses frozen inside glacial ice that's about 15,000 years old. The scientists warned that global warming could melt the ice and also release the new viruses, leading to a new disease outbreak.
The findings of the scientists regarding their discovery were presented in a new study that was submitted for publication through the pre-print server bioRxiv.
Discovering Ancient Viruses in Tibet Glaciers
For their study, the scientists traveled to Tibet to collect samples from some of the oldest glaciers on Earth. In this region, they came across glacial ice that's about 15,000 years old. They then drilled 164 feet into the glacier to collect samples, which were then subjected to decontamination protocols.
The scientists then used a technique to detect the presence of microbes in the glacial ice. After identifying and analyzing the microbes in the samples, the scientists came across a total of 33 virus groups, which include 28 ancient virus strains. According to the scientists, the 28 virus groups have never been documented before.
New Outbreaks Caused By Ancient Viruses
As noted by the scientists in their study, the presence of the ancient virus groups in glacial ice could be affected by the effects of global warming on Earth. According to previous reports, the planet's increasing temperature is causing glaciers and ice-covered regions to melt at an alarming rate. Aside from rising ocean levels, melting ice could also uncover other unknown ancient viruses hiding in glaciers.
As the ice melts, some of these viruses could wake up from their dormant state. The scientists noted that this could release new pathogens into the environment, which could then lead to a new global outbreak.
"At a minimum, [ice melt] could lead to the loss of microbial and viral archives that could be diagnostic and informative of past Earth climate regimes," the scientists wrote in their study. "However, in a worst-case scenario, this ice melt could release pathogens into the environment."