Scientists have recreated a 700-year-old virus — found in frozen caribou feces. The poop has allowed them a rare look into viral evolution.
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, infected lab plants with the virus so they could study its evolution. They found that viruses could be preserved for hundreds of years if they're in frozen material. The results are published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
To access the virus, scientists drilled through the feces — some of which were 4,000 years old — found in an ice patch in Canada's northwest territories. They drilled into a 700-year old layer of an ice core, which allowed the researchers, in turn, to isolate and analyze the virus' genetic material. The scientists named the virus aCFV — "ancient caribou feces associated virus." They then recreated the virus using a "reverse genetic approach" to infect the lab plants.
The virus is a distant relative of today's plant viruses, but Eric Delwart, a researcher at San Francisco's Blood Systems Research Institute, told NPR that it isn't dangerous. However, if climate change continues, ice melts could eventually lead to ancient viruses' revival in the modern ecosystem, NPR notes.