Ancient 15,000-Year-Old Viruses Appear In Melting Glacier Ice

Century-old moss that has been frozen away in the depths of a Tibetan Glacier has melted to reveal ancient viruses, giving scientists a real glimpse into the organisms that lived tens of thousands of years ago on Earth, as well as the history of their ecosystems.

“The melting has also created some concerns about ancient viruses coming back to haunt us. Melting will not only lead to the loss of those ancient, archived microbes and viruses, but also release them to the environment in the future,” microbiologist Zhi-Ping Zhong wrote in a new study.

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Scientists luckily have access to technology that can keep the ice samples completely sterilized, which makes it easier to work with when it comes to analyzing what exactly is in the ice. Recently, scientists identified dozens of 15,000-year-old viruses from the Guliya ice cap of the Tibetan Plateau.

“These glaciers were formed gradually, and along with dust and gases, many, many viruses were also deposited in that ice. These microbes potentially represent those in the atmosphere at the time of their deposit.”

“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,” said microbiologist Matthew Sullivan, who also worked on the study.

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When the scientists compared the genetic sequence of the recent discovery they found that a majority of the viruses present in the ice core samples were bacteria that infect Methylobacterium; this classifies the group of bacteria responsible for the methane cycle of ice in a glacier.

These types of bacteria are typically found in plant or soil habitats, which indicates to the researchers that the viruses likely were deposited in the ice through dust particles that lifted from soil tens of thousands of years ago.

“These frozen viruses likely originate from soil or plants and facilitate nutrient acquisition for their hosts.”

“We know very little about viruses and microbes in these extreme environments, and what is actually there,” says Earth scientist Lonnie Thompson.

“How do bacteria and viruses respond to climate change? What happens when we go from an ice age to a warm period like we’re in now?”

Melting Glacier

Climate Change May Release Ancient Viruses Trapped in Melting Glaciers

It’s common knowledge at this point that global warming is melting the world’s glaciers, leading to a rise in sea level and the destruction of habitats for life around the North and South Pole. However, scientists now have an additional concern relating to the melting of glaciers, which is that this melting may lead to the release of never-before-seen frozen viruses which have been trapped within glaciers for fifteen thousand years. As scientists have never before had an opportunity to study these mysterious viruses, they are of significant scientific interest, as not only do they offer a window into the history of the evolution of viruses, but learning about these viruses may give doctors a better chance of treating people who could potentially be affected by them. While it’s unlikely that humans will contract diseases caused by the release of these ancient viruses, the fact that so little is currently known about them leads researchers to be on high alert, as no one can say for certain what effect they might have on human beings.

Accordingly, a study, which was posted on the bioRxiv database but has not yet been peer reviewed, explores a novel method of studying these ancient viruses that minimizes the chances of contamination by modern-day bacteria. In order to prevent contamination, the researchers brought two ice core samples collected from the Guliya ice cap on the Tibetan Plateau to a cold room, where the thermometer was set to 23 degrees Farhrenheit, and cut into the ice sample with a sterilized band saw. Then, they washed the ice cores with ethanol and sterile water to expose an uncontaminated layer of ice. 

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By examining this layer of ice, the researchers found 33 groups of virus genuses, 28 of which were previously unknown to science. Between the two ice core samples, the microbes differed significantly, representing the fact that the two ice cores existed in very different climates at the time that the viruses became embedded in the ice. Researchers expect that glaciers around the world contain substantially more ancient, frozen viruses that are currently unknown to science.

One of the dangers posed by climate change is not only that these mysterious viruses could be released into the world, but that the melting of glaciers could destroy these preserved viruses, preventing scientists from learning more about the history of the evolution of viruses. Currently, glacial viruses are severely understudied, and climate change may have the effect of making study of these viruses impossible. 


How You Can Visit The Locations in Frozen

The Frozen frenzy has once again hit America with the sequel to the record-breaking first movie hitting theaters to fantastic reviews.

We head back to Arendelle six years after we last saw sisters Elsa and Anna and join them both, Kristoff and Sven on a journey of discovery (Elsa) and love (Anna). And of course the fantastic Olaf comes along to bring humor to the adventure.

But if your little ones – or even yourself – have come away wanting to visit Arendelle you cannot use the excuse it is an animated film, as the whole movie was based on real-life locations, predominantly in Norway and Iceland in Europe.

We thought we would take a look at the beautiful settings and see which ones you should visit, starting in Bergen, Norway.

Weave through the beautiful houses that are on the route through Bergen to the stunning harbour of Bryggen and you will notice they look familiar to fans of Elsa and Anna. Used as the inspiration for the kingdom of Arendelle in both Frozen movies, UNESCO’s World Heritage Site will fill you with wonder and awe as you look around the wooden Hanseatic-era buildings.

And when looking at the harbor itself it is easy to visualize yourself at any of the many events the two sisters hold by the water, the market or even the spot where Anna is saved from the water from love interest Hans.

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However this is not where the inspiration for Elsa’s coronation is located. Head out of Bergen and you will find the beautiful village of Balestrand. Although only a four hour drive, many find it takes far longer due to stopping at the beautiful settings spotted along the way.

In Balestrand you will find the appropriately named St Olaf’s Church. Although the area may not look too familiar, step inside and you will instantly be transported to the day of Elsa’s coronation due to the fact the interior was replicated for the film.

For those of you wanting to truly experience Frozen make sure you visit Saltfjellet-Svartisen National Park. Located in the Arctic Circle, the northern wilderness is home for reindeer and there are plenty of authentic hotels and hostels for you to choose from.

And if you are one of the cinema goers who fell in love with the beautiful scenes in the enchanted forest you need to head further afield to the island of Iceland. Located nearly 1,500 km away from Norway, Iceland can be reached either by ferry or by taking a short flight.

Once there head out to Reynisfjara situated on the south coast and marvel at the black-sand beaches and the beautiful basalt rocks, thought to be the inspiration for the “earth giants”.

The is home to both the Svínafellsjökull glacier and Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon and is clearly the inspiration for Queen Elsa’s trip to the mystical river Ahtohallan.

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But it is not just the Frozen locations that make Norway such a beautiful place to visit. Visiting Norway in the run up to Christmas is always a magical experience, thanks to the traditions the country is seeped in.

The first week of December will see Christmas trees and city streets decorated with festive lights and decorations while ‘Little Christmas Eve’ on the 23rd of December sees Norwegian families hosting their own decorations – it is common for homes to decorate the tree and make gingerbread houses while the tradition of eating rice pudding, complete with hidden almond, is also a tradition popular in this area.

If you like a bit of snow sports make your way to Trysil, Norway’s largest ski resort. Perfect for skiers of all levels, the 45 miles of pistes also have excellent ski schools.

Oslo, the nation’s capital, is home to an inspiring winter wonderland. Full of Christmas themed concerts and an amazing Christmas market, Advent is one of the most popular times to visit Oslo.

A strange tradition amongst Norwegians is that if you kiss a moose you will receive good luck and happiness so make your way to Svartisen and meet some of the largest land-living animals, all by the foot of the Svartisen Glacier.

The remote archipelago of Svalbard will enable you to have a true Arctic adventure, with dog sledding trips available for all the family. Svalbard is also a perfect location to get a glimpse of the Northern Lights – aurora borealis – in the winter, while in the summer months visitors can expect to experience the ‘midnight sun’, a phenomenon where there is sunlight 24 hours a day.

Finally, make your way to the outskirts of the city of Bodø and find your way to the Saltstraumen Maelstrom, the strongest tidal current in the world. Book your boat trip across the awesome whirlpools and find out about the stunning mountains, scenery and the amazing natural phenomenon of the area.