A new discovery sounds a lot like the beginning of a horror movie – Ancient creatures are slowly making their way out of the now-melting permafrost, including amazingly preserved extinct megafauna like a woolly rhino, 40,000-year-old remains of a giant old, and 750-000 years old bacteria.
However, the more frightening news is that not all of the creatures that come out of the permafrost are dead.
Centuries-old moss managed to come back to life in the warm conditions of a laboratory. Amazingly, the same can be said about some 42,000-year-old roundworms.
These unique organisms are authentic relics of ancient ecosystems, providing details of the environments in which they thrived.
However, the melt also led to concerns regarding ancient viruses springing back to life.
Zhi-Ping Zhong, a lead researcher from Ohio State University and his colleagues, wrote in a new study:
“Melting will not only lead to the loss of those ancient, archived microbes and viruses, but also release them to the environments in the future.”
The researchers analyzing the subject are getting a better understanding of what lies beneath the cold layers of the permafrost.
In the new study, the team managed to identify an archive of dozens of never-before-seen 15,000-years-old viruses from the Guliya ice cap of the Tibetan Plateau and find out more about their evolution.
The glaciers formed gradually, and, along with them, numerous viruses were trapped along with gases and dust.
Matthew Sullivan, an Ohio State University microbiologist, said:
“These are viruses that would have thrived in extreme environments… [with] signatures of genes that help them infect cells in cold environments – just surreal genetic signatures for how a virus is able to survive in extreme conditions.”