Researchers from institutions in France and Russia published an abstract about the giant virus in the U.S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The virus reportedly infects amoebas, not humans or animals and hails from a period when creatures like the wooly mammoth and saber-tooth cats roamed the earth.
A press release issued on March 3, 2014 states that the discovery of Pithovirus "shows how incomplete our understanding of microscopic biodiversity is when it comes to exploring new environments."
Jean-Michel Claverie, co-authors of the study states, "This is an indication that viruses pathogenic for human or animals might also be preserved in old permafrost layers, including some that have caused planet-wide epidemics in the past."
Researchers indicate that the discovery of the giant virus may indicate that dangerous germs might emerge in the future "as permafrost thaws because of global warming or mineral exploration." Taking samples of the permafrost to search for ancient viruses may help scientists keep tabs on this potential threat.
Study co-author Jean-Michel Claverie told MSN in an email, "Those pathogens could be banal bacteria (curable with antibiotics) or resistant bacteria or nasty viruses. If they have been extinct for a long time, then our immune system is no longer prepared to respond to them.