Thank an ancient squirrel, climate change and French scientists for the new discovery of an ancient virus, Mollivirus sibericum, that sounds like it could launch a creepy movie.
“Actually there’s already a science-fiction novel inspired by one of our last (discoveries). Look on Amazon,” said Jean-Michel Claverie, a professor of medical genomics and bioinformatics at the University Of Mediterranean School Of Medicine in Marseille, France. “But with the ancient squirrel, I can see where you might think movie.”
The virus has been at rest for 30,000 years about 30 meters deep in the Siberian permafrost. Astrobiologists using it as kind of stand-in for Mars have taken core samples looking for life. Claverie said he stumbled on research that described how reviving a plant from a seed that had been buried for 30,000 years. What intrigued Claverie was that the particular core sample came into contact with an ancient squirrel’s nest.
“And what do all squirrels do all their life? They store seeds for eating,” Claverie said. Wondering what else they might find, he sent the scientists an email that launched collaboration between Russian and French research teams and led to several discoveries.