A 700-Year-Old Virus Has Been Resurrected From Frozen Caribou Droppings

An aerial photograph of caribou gathering on an ice patch to escape summer heat and insects. Researchers analysed viruses contained in layers of preserved frozen feces that accumulated over thousands of years. Image courtesy of Glen MacKay.

Scientists have revived a 700-year-old virus found in frozen caribou droppings buried deep in the ice in Canada.

Eric Delwart of the Blood Systems Research Institute, San Francisco, and colleagues analysed the genetic material contained in a core drilled through layers of accumulated caribou feces up to 4,000 years old in an ice patch in Canada’s Selwyn Mountains.

Caribou congregate on ice patches to escape insects and summer heat and deposit feces containing partially digested plant material.

The authors isolated the complete genome of a DNA virus from a 700-year-old ice core layer that was distantly related to plant and fungi-infecting viruses, and a partial viral RNA genome that was related to an insect-infecting cripavirus.

Plants inoculated with the ancient viral DNA displayed evidence of infection including replication of viral DNA.

The results of the study are published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

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