Scientists have recently isolated a virus they found in a frozen caribou dung in a Canadian arctic ice patch. After the discovery, they wanted to see if it could still be viral so they injected it into a tobacco plant. And if you think it couldn’t possibly still be preserved after all this time, you are wrong.
While looking at nucleic acids that were buried in frozen fecal pellets, scientists could identify two sets of well preserved viral sequences. The virus was then cleverly named aCFV (ancient caribou feces associated virus) and it does not closely resemble any modern sequenced virus, but then again, viruses change very rapidly.
Eric Delwart, a researcher at the Blood Systems Research Institute, cloned the virus and used it to infect a tobacco plant (Nicotiana benthamiana). The virus replicated itself in newly emerging leaves that were infected with the sample. Though the plant didn’t show any outward signs of infection, damage clearly showed in the plant’s DNA. The reason why there were no other signs of the virus probably lies in the plant itself, not being an ideal host for this virus.
“As climate change accelerates the melting of arctic ice, it is possible that ancient viral particles and the associated nucleic acids could be released into the environment,” Delaware said. This information is slightly disturbing since we do not know what else is still hidden under the ice but we must remember ourselves that the possibilities of global epidemics are very slim.