Giant parasitic viruses

I love science fiction as a genre. A little while ago I read a very old science fiction novel – written in 1938 – by John W. Campbell called Who Goes There? It has been made into a film a few times called The Thing.

The story goes like this: A group of scientists are working in Antarctica and they discover an alien spacecraft that has been frozen in the ice for some 20 million years. They defrost the alien pilot thinking it will be dead but instead the thing returns to life as a scary creature that can assume the shape of anything it kills. This leads to paranoia and distrust as the researchers start to suspect each other as being taken over by the alien but none wants to be alone. Some even doubt themselves as being still human. It’s a great premise for a story but an article making the rounds today has made this less fiction and more non-fiction.

So I’m not talking about an alien spacecraft here but something possibly just as fearsome. Global warming is melting the permafrost and scientists have recently discovered giant viruses that parasitise amoebas. Although harmless to humans, they are still infectious and they beg the question: what else lies frozen in the ice? From Science this week:

The authors named the virus Pithovirus because Pandora’s jar was called a “pithos” in ancient Greek.This virus was revived from a Siberian permafrost sample and infects amoebas. Although named for the jar and not its contents, given its origins, this discovery hints that viruses more evil than Pithovirus might be revived as the tundra melts.

I must credit the blogger at ecocrap for bringing it to my attention first with How we are going to pay.