Scientists discover 15,000-year-old virus in Tibet’s glacier

Scientists have discovered a 15,000-year-old group of viruses in the Tibet Plateau in southwest China. The organisms survived in the region due to their freezing and were identified from the drilling of the Guliya glacier. This action extracted two ice samples, whose analysis revealed that some of the parasites are different from all previously cataloged by the scientific community.

The novelty could help researchers understand the evolution process of viruses and the climate over time. This is because the core of an ice can store information about microorganisms and atmospheric conditions of the past, an area used even to predict future climate changes.

“These glaciers were gradually formed and, along with the dust and gases, many viruses were also deposited on that ice. [Há poucos estudos na região] and our goal is to use this information to reflect on the past environments in which viruses are a part,” wrote Zhi-Ping Zhong, leader of the work conducted by Ohio State University (USA) and published in the journal. Microbiome.

Analysis of ice cores extracted from a glacier in Tibet in 2015 identified 15,000-year-old viruses
Analysis of ice cores extracted from a glacier in Tibet in 2015 identified 15,000-year-old virusesSource:ção

The samples were taken in 2015 from the summit of Guliya, almost 7 kilometers in altitude. To conduct the study, the team developed a new method that avoids the contamination of the material found, probably originating from the soil or plants, and not from animals, and in low concentration.

Due to the fact that they do not share a universal gene, it is necessary to compare the genetic material through scientific databases. The analysis identified genetic codes for 33 different viruses; of these, 4 have been previously registered — they usually only infect bacteria — and 28 new types have been confirmed so far.

“These are viruses that would have thrived in extreme environments. They have gene signatures that help them infect cells in cold environments — [características que mostram] how a virus is able to survive in extreme conditions,” said Matthew Sullivan, a microbiologist involved in the research, in a speech released by

“These signatures are not easy to extract, and the method Zhi-Ping developed for not contaminating nuclei and studying microbes and viruses in ice could help us research these genetic sequences in other extreme icy environments — such as Mars and the Moon.” completed.

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