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Scientists found ancient never-before-seen viruses locked in a glacier

Published Jan 22nd, 2020 11:14PM EST
glacier viruses
Image: Oleksiy Maksymenko/imageBROKER/Shutterstock

You can find a lot of interesting things if you start digging around in ice that’s been frozen for thousands and thousands of years. For scientists working in China, 15,000-year-old glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau provided a glimpse into the not-so-distant history of viruses, including some entirely new viruses that were previously unknown to science.

Upon examining ice core samples taken from the glacier, researchers were able to identify over two dozen viruses that nobody has ever seen. If this sounds a bit like the start of a made-for-Netflix sci-fi horror movie to you, you’re not alone.

After taking the ice core samples, the scientists slowly melted away the exterior of the ice so as to ensure there was no contamination in their testing. Samples were then studied for the presence of microorganisms, and the researchers found a total of 33 types of viruses, with a whopping 28 of those being entirely new to science.

As LiveScience reports, the research is interesting for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that as ancient glaciers around the world melt (often with the help of a warming planet), it’s these kinds of viruses that may be waking up for the first time in modern human history.

That might sound a little scary on the surface, but it’s worth remembering that not all viruses pose a serious threat (or any threat at all) to humans. Generally speaking, the discoveries of these new (old) viruses is more interesting from a historical perspective than anything else. So, no, a virus unlocked from a glacier probably isn’t going to wipe out humanity… probably.