Melting Ice Could Unleash Deadly Bacteria Lain Dormant for Millennia

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Deep in the soils of permafrost lurks unknown and archaic bacteria that could potentially spawn viruses and disease that the human race has never been exposed to, at least, not in the recent history of penicillin.

But with climate change rapidly heating up the poles, the permafrost is melting away, and we may have to face whatever is beneath the ice.

There are few cases of deadly bacteria emerging from the ice, but in one case a 12-year-old boy from Yamal Peninsula in the Arctic Circle died from anthrax poisoning, which was believed to come from a thawed carcass of a reindeer that died 75 years ago after contracting anthrax. As ice melts, it enters bodies of water that are used for drinking water, which is why scientists are worried about unknown diseases the ice may be harboring.

Permafrost is a very good preserver of microbes and viruses, because it is cold, there is no oxygen, and it is dark,” evolutionary biologist Jean-Michel Claverie explains. “Pathogenic viruses that can infect humans or animals might be preserved in old permafrost layers, including some that have caused global epidemics in the past.

The biggest concern is that the hosts of disease like bubonic plague, Spanish flu and smallpox are buried very near the surface of the ice.

As a consequence of permafrost melting, the vectors of deadly infections of the 18th and 19th Centuries may come back,” Boris Revich and Marina Podolnaya wrote in a 2011 study, “especially near the cemeteries where the victims of these infections were buried.

One such burial site is in Siberia, where one town lost 40 percent of its population to smallpox. It’s a haunting thought, but the ice is melting in the area where they were buried and it’s not impossible that the disease lives beneath the ice.

Scientists have revived dormant bacteria from corpses that are thousands of years old. In 2005, NASA brought to life bacteria that were in a frozen Alaskan pond for 32,000 years. With just a little heat, the ice melted and the bacteria began floating around.

Melting ice isn’t the only threat to bringing these microbes back to life. Shipping and offshore drilling could also disrupt these frozen environments.

At the moment, these regions are deserted and the deep permafrost layers are left alone,” Claverie said. “However, these ancient layers could be exposed by the digging involved in mining and drilling operations. If viable virions are still there, this could spell disaster.

The biggest fear is that these bacteria won’t be affected by modern-day antibiotics because the medicines weren’t designed to tackle that type of bacteria. Essentially, it’s possible that we wouldn’t be able to keep up with the influx of an emerging bacteria without proper treatments put into place. It would be like starting from scratch.

The risk for such an epidemic is unknown, better saying: it is unpredictable! It could be anywhere from scarlet fever to your regular seasonal flu. But, before you lock yourself into a sterile bubble, you should trust that scientists are taking this problem very seriously and there are real efforts to expand this area of study to develop new safeguards that, hopefully, one day in a near future, will be there to prevent those deadly pathogens – if any – from reaching your next glass of water.

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Julio Marchi ©

Publisher / Editor at BS News & Media Services
A free thinker, not labelled as anything, not associated with any party, not part of any group or engaged with any religion... A simple guy tired of the nowadays bullshit who decided to promote more serious debates about what is really happening hoping to bring back intelligence to the superficial and shallow news & headlines that unfortunately took over the existing media scene.
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