Russian scientists study prehistoric animal viruses from the permafrost

Researchers analyze prehistoric viruses in animals dug out from the Siberian permafrost.

Russian scientists study prehistoric animal viruses from the permafrost

The team at Vector Virology Centre.

Credit: Nina Sleptsova/NEFU
  • Scientists in a Siberian laboratory in Russia began studying ancient viruses.
  • The viruses come from prehistoric animals dug out from the melting permafrost.
  • The research lab used to be a center for the development of biological weapons.

A state lab in Russia's Siberia is beginning research into prehistoric viruses preserved in the remains of animals found in melting permafrost.

Spearheaded by the Vector State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology and the University of Yakutsk, the study will start by analyzing tissues from a prehistoric horse from at least 4,500 ago. These remains were located in the region of Siberia called Yakutia, where Paleolithic animals like mammoths are often found.

Other prehistoric animals the researchers aim to study include elk, dogs, partridges, hares, rodents, the 28,800 year old Malolyakhovsky woolly mammoth, and more. Some of the remains are up to 50,000 years old. All the animals were found because of the thawing permafrost.

One might wonder if this kind of research is in some way's opening a Pandora's box to ancient viruses, but this it not the first time such viruses have been studied. In fact, with the Arctic warming at twice the global average rate, the melting permafrost is likely to reveal more of its frozen content.

Maxim Cheprasov, head of the Mammoth Museum laboratory at Yakutsk University, explained in a press release that the animals being examined have undergone bacterial studies previously. However, "We are conducting studies on paleoviruses for the first time," Cheprasov shared.

Vector scientist Dr. Olesya Okhlopkova explained that "the team of Vector Virology Centre is keen to find paleo-viruses that would allow to start development of paleo-virology in Russia and conduct leading researched in virus evolution."

The world's only known woolly mammoth trunk.

Credit: Semyon Grigoryev/NEFU

So far there has only been limited research on soft issues but the Vector team is looking to monitor the infections in the animals by segregating out total nucleic acids and sequencing the genomes to get more information on the biodiversity and the microorganisms in the ancient beasts.

"Should nucleic acids preserve, we ought to be able to get data on their composition and establish how it changed, shared Okhlopkova. "We will be able to determine the epidemiological potential of currently existing infectious agents."

During Soviet times, the Vector laboratory, located in Novosibirsk, used to be a center for the development of biological weapons. It's one of the two places in the world that currently stores the smallpox virus. It has also developed Russia's second coronavirus vaccine - the EpiVacCorona.

How tiny bioelectronic implants may someday replace pharmaceutical drugs

Scientists are using bioelectronic medicine to treat inflammatory diseases, an approach that capitalizes on the ancient "hardwiring" of the nervous system.

Left: The vagus nerve, the body's longest cranial nerve. Right: Vagus nerve stimulation implant by SetPoint Medical.

Credit: Adobe Stock / SetPoint Medical
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Bioelectronic medicine is an emerging field that focuses on manipulating the nervous system to treat diseases.
  • Clinical studies show that using electronic devices to stimulate the vagus nerve is effective at treating inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Although it's not yet approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, vagus nerve stimulation may also prove effective at treating other diseases like cancer, diabetes and depression.
Keep reading Show less

Just how cold was the Ice Age? New study finds the temperature

Researchers figure out the average temperatures of the last ice age on Earth.


Credit: Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • A new study analyzes fossil data to find the average temperatures during the last Ice Age.
  • This period of time, about 20,000 years ago, had the average temperature of about 46 degrees Fahrenheit (7.8 C).
  • The study has implications for understanding climate change.

Keep reading Show less

Best. Science. Fiction. Show. Ever.

"The Expanse" is the best vision I've ever seen of a space-faring future that may be just a few generations away.

Credit: "The Expanse" / Syfy
  • Want three reasons why that headline is justified? Characters and acting, universe building, and science.
  • For those who don't know, "The Expanse" is a series that's run on SyFy and Amazon Prime set about 200 years in the future in a mostly settled solar system with three waring factions: Earth, Mars, and Belters.
  • No other show I know of manages to use real science so adeptly in the service of its story and its grand universe building.
Keep reading Show less

How exercise changes your brain biology and protects your mental health

Contrary to what some might think, the brain is a very plastic organ.

Mind & Brain

As with many other physicians, recommending physical activity to patients was just a doctor chore for me – until a few years ago. That was because I myself was not very active.

Keep reading Show less
Surprising Science

Here's a 10-step plan to save our oceans

By 2050, there may be more plastic than fish in the sea.