Anthrax: Global warming could release many dangerous viruses

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In Alaska and Siberia, melting permafrost worries many researchers, because this frozen soil contains multiple sleepy bacteria and viruses. Could global warming activate them? What are the risks to humans?

Global warming causes an increase in temperatures and sea level, an increase in rainfall, the melting of glaciers and especially the melting of permafrost. Very present in Alaska and Siberia, permafrost is a soil whose temperature is constantly kept below 0 ° C. Due to global warming, the permafrost gel melts and releases many bacteria and viruses that have been buried for several centuries. Also called permafrost, this natural element contains 1.5 trillion tons of greenhouse gases (CO2 and methane).

In 2014, French biologist Jean-Michel Claverie and his team managed to reactivate two 30,000-year-old viruses in the Kolyma region of Yakutia, in northern Russia. "There is no reason why some viruses that are much more annoying to humans, animals or plants also do not survive more than 30,000 years", confided the co-founder of the laboratory of genomic and structural information. According to him, the thawing of permafrost is "a viral and bacterial time bomb".

Melting ice: the return of smallpox and anthrax?

This summer, Professor Jean-Michel Claverie went to Tcherski in Yakutia. The biologist was impressed by the speed of global warming. "It is crazy. The coasts have become beaches. Obviously, the permafrost suffers the same thermal shock. There is no better natural refrigerator for microbial life than permafrost, microbial life is perfectly safe there from any aggression, that of light, oxygen ".

During his interview with Le Parisien, Jean-Michel Claverie explained that microorganisms are inactive in permafrost, but reactivate on contact with liquid water.

"Every year, the permafrost layers dissolve, microorganisms rise from deep layers and are released to the surface, but it is a slow process, so much so that oxygen, which is an excellent disinfectant, such as ultraviolet rays, generally gives us time to sterilize them, "added the researcher.

Melting permafrost could lead to the reappearance of eradicated diseases such as smallpox or anthrax, but health authorities can combat them with antibiotics and vaccines already in place. However, permafrost contains as yet unknown viruses and bacteria against which humans have no immune defense.

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