Researchers have discovered 33 unknown virus species in a Tibetan ice cap.
The ice and its adaptability has preserved the viruses for millennia.
Are you becoming a danger now?
Ohio - deep in the unexplored highlands of Tibet - the "roof of the world" - researchers suddenly find viruses trapped in the ice for 15,000 years and never examined by humans. That sounds like the beginning of a science fiction blockbuster. Or like the beginning of a pandemic. The previously unknown viruses have survived and developed under extreme conditions for millennia. Can they be dangerous to us now?
The Ohio State University research team headed by Zhi-Ping Zhong published their study in the American journal "Microbiome" and describes 33 different virus types that were found in the ice of the Guliya ice cap, a Tibetan glacier.
The Tibetan highlands are a special ecoregion in East Asia.
It is considered the highest plateau in the world.
"The glaciers in western China have hardly been explored, and our goal is to use this information to study past habitats," Zhong explains in the Ohio State News.
"Viruses are part of these habitats."
Is there a new pandemic looming?
Virus found in Asia: Viruses persisted for 15,000 years
The team's samples were taken in 2015.
However, the viruses themselves probably formed on the summit of the glacier thousands of years ago.
The ice has preserved them and accumulated there in new layers year after year.
Despite the protective layers of ice, the viruses also needed a strong adaptability in order to survive this enormous period of time.
Nevertheless, the researchers do not really assume that one of the 33 virus types could be dangerous to us.
According to the studies published in the study, the virus species detected seem to come from plants and soil and thus - unlike the coronavirus and its mutations - do not infect humans or animals as hosts.
The comparison with 131 other virus genomes suggests a vegetable origin.
Virus discovery in the ice: important for science - how do bacteria and viruses react to climate change?
Instead of potential harm, the researchers emphasize the usefulness of their research.
In fact, it can be very important to deal with such virus finds.
"We know very little about microbes and viruses in such extreme habitats," explains Lonnie Thompson, senior author of the study in the university's report.
“Documenting and understanding them is extremely important: How do bacteria and viruses react to climate change?
What happens if we get from an ice age into a hot phase? "
The research team's methods could also prove to be valuable. The technology developed by Zhong specializes in detecting microbes and viruses in extreme habitats. Mars, the moon or the Atacama desert, for example, are conceivable. (vs)