As World Warms, Scientists Warn of ‘Zombie Viruses’

Mar 21, 2023

In recent years, the world has witnessed the harm a novel virus like COVID-19 can cause. As hotter temperatures change our environment, though, some experts warn that we should be wary of diseases from the past as well. They've even given these viruses their own sci-fi-sounding name: “zombie viruses.”

Jean-Michel Claverie is a French professor of medicine and genomics. He studies viruses that come from melting Arctic permafrost. That’s soil in the Arctic that has been so frozen, until now, that no light or air has broken through it. 

Earlier this year, Claverie’s team recovered virus strains from seven places all over Siberia. The strains were dormant. That means they were in a state similar to sleep. They've been trapped in the ice for up to 48,500 years. Claverie wanted to see if they could be a threat. So, he tried to bring them back to life in his lab.

He succeeded. 

Claverie wanted to be safe. So, he only brought back a virus that infects tiny, one-celled amoebas. It doesn't harm humans. Still, the success of the trial offers a hint into what we might expect as the permafrost melts.

“If the amoeba viruses are still alive,” Claverie told CNN, “there is no reason why the other viruses will not be still alive and capable of infecting their own hosts."

Kimberly Miner, a climate scientist, said the chance of a zombie virus infecting humans isn't likely. She told CBS News that the best way to stop an outbreak is to reverse the melting effects of climate change

Photo by CDC courtesy of Unsplash. 

Based on details in the story, which word or phrase best describes the chance of a zombie virus infecting humans? (Common Core RI.5.3; RI.6.3)
a. highly probable
b. fairly likely
c. unlikely
d. impossible
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