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Tibetan glaciers reveal ancient virus

Date: 23 January 2020 Tags: Climate Change


A glacier on the north western Tibetan Plateau of China has hosted an ensemble of frozen viruses, many of them unknown to modern science. Scientists excavated the site, revealing the existence of 28 never-before-seen virus groups. 



Investigating these mysterious viruses could help scientists in understanding which viruses thrived in different climates and environments over time.



  • Studying ancient glacial microbes can be challenging. That's because it's extremely easy to contaminate ice core samples with modern-day bacteria.

  • The team drilled 50 meters (164 feet) down into the glacier to obtain two ice cores, which then underwent a three-step decontamination protocol.

  • After that, the researchers used microbiology techniques to identify microbes in the samples.

  • The microbes differed significantly across the two ice cores, presumably representing the very different climate conditions at the time of deposition.

  • Climate change now threatens both our ability to exhaustively catalogue those tiny lifeforms as well as our ability to stay safe from dangerous ones.

  • In a worst-case scenario, this ice melt [from climate change] could release pathogens into the environment. If this happens, it's best to know as much about these viruses as possible.

  • Research into ancient viruses provides a first window into viral genomes and their ecology from glacier ice.

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