While studying glaciers in 2021, scientists discovered 33 viruses that had been frozen for over 15,000 years, 28 of which were novel viruses. The newly discovered viruses were discovered in the melting Tibetan glacier as a result of global warming
As the world continues to recover from the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, scientists have discovered that the next pandemic may come from something much more common — melting glaciers.
As climate change rages on, glaciers around the world are melting at an alarming rate. Genetic analysis of soil revealed the dangers of viral spillover and viruses jumping to a new host. Viral spillover is the process by which a virus infects and spreads in a new host.
Researchers detailed the risks of spillover in a study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
Scientists are most concerned about melting glaciers because the loss of permafrost (permanently frozen) weight could release viruses and bacteria trapped in the glaciers.
These viruses could infect wildlife, causing zoonosis, and then jump onto humans, similar to how SARS-CoV-2 caused the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Should climate change also shift the species' range of potential viral vectors and reservoirs northwards, the High Arctic could become fertile ground for emerging pandemics," researchers wrote in their paper.
The researchers collected soil and sediment samples from Lake Hazen, the world's largest High Arctic freshwater lake, and sequenced the RNA and DNA in these samples to identify signatures that closely matched those of known viruses.
They calculated the spillover risk by comparing the congruence of the viral and eukaryotic host phylogenetic trees and discovered that spillover risk increases with glacier melt runoff.
It is worth noting that viruses are present everywhere and are frequently described as the most abundant replicating entities on Earth.
Despite having highly diverse genomes, viruses are not self-contained organisms or replicators because they must infect a host cell in order to replicate.
"The High Arctic is of particular interest because it is particularly affected by climate change, warming faster than the rest of the world. Indeed, as demonstrated by arboviruses and the Hendra virus, a warming climate and rapid environmental transitions may both increase spillover risk by altering the global distribution and dynamics of viruses, as well as those of their reservoirs and vectors," India Today reported quoting the research team.
While studying glaciers in 2021, scientists discovered 33 viruses that had been frozen for over 15,000 years, 28 of which were novel viruses. The newly discovered viruses were discovered in the melting Tibetan glacier as a result of global warming.
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