Giant Virus Survives After Being Frozen in Siberia for 30,000 Years

Posted on March 4, 2014

Pithovirus sibericum

A giant virus has survived after being frozen in Siberia for 30,000 years. Scientists found the giant virus and revived it in a French lab. The newly discovered virus has been named Pithovirus sibericum. The researchers say it is harmless to humans and animals. It only infects a certain type of amoeba. A transmission electron microscopy color image of the Pithovirus is pictured above. The virus is 1.5 micrometers long and 0.5 micrometers wide. The scientists say it is the largest virus ever discovered.

Pithovirus sibericum was discovered in the frozen ground of extreme northeastern Siberia by researchers from the Information Genomique et Structurale laboratory (CNRS/AMU), in association with teams from the Biologie a Grande Echelle laboratory (CEA/INSERM/Universite Joseph Fourier), G�noscope (CEA/CNRS) and the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Because of its amphora shape, the scientists initially thought that this was a new member of the Pandoravirus family. Pandoraviruses were discovered in 2013. The researchers found the Pithovirus contains much fewer genes than found in the Pandoravirus genome.

The researchers say, "In-depth analysis of Pithovirus showed that it has almost nothing in common with the giant viruses that have previously been characterized. This makes it the first member of a new virus family, bringing to three the number of distinct families of giant viruses known to date. This discovery, coming soon after that of Pandoravirus, suggests that amphora-shaped viruses are perhaps as diverse as icosahedral viruses, which are among the most widespread today. This shows how incomplete our understanding of microscopic biodiversity is when it comes to exploring new environments."

A research paper, "Thirty-thousand-year-old distant relative of giant icosahedral DNA viruses with a pandoravirus morphology," on the newly discovered giant virus was published here in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Photo: � Julia Bartoli & Chantal Abergel, IGS, CNRS/AMU