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The Siberian Times

Siberian virus, 'asleep' for 30,000 years, could cure rare eye disease, says expert 

By The Siberian Times reporter
14 September 2015

Found in a frozen prehistoric squirrel's nest, scientists make intriguing discovery.

Mollivirus Sibericum is visible under a light microscope, like a bacteria, and it has a large number of genes. Picture: J.M. Claverie/PNAS/CNRS

Fears have been voiced over Mollivirus sibericum - as the ancient virus is reanimated - but there are also hopes it can bring medical benefits. Leading Russian molecular biologist Sergey Netesov says that the virus may act as a cure for an eye disease called Acanthamoeba keratitis, caused by an amoeba, which penetrates the cornea and can lead to visual impairment and even blindness, especially for users of contact lenses.

'This virus affects the single-celled organisms and, most likely, is not a threat to humans in general,' said the expert, who is vice-rector of Novosibirsk State University, and head of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology of RNA viruses at Vector State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology.

Sergey Netesov

Biologist Sergey Netesov, vice-rector of Novosibirsk State University, and head of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology of RNA viruses at Vector State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology. Picture: Eureka

However, this and other ancient viruses buried 30 or so metres in the Siberian permafrost 'could be the treatment of Acanthamoeba keratitis. And it is one more argument why they should be studied'.

French scientist Professor Jean-Michel Claverie led a warning recently about the dangers of energy exploration in permafrost regions, which could unlock ancient viruses. But in experiments he indicates there is hope of a cure for the eye disease. 

His team at the University Of Mediterranean School Of Medicine in Marseille, France, used amoeba - of the type found in contact lens infections -  'to fish out whatever viruses may be in that specific sample'.

In a number of cases in the petri dish 'we see them die and that's when we know somebody must be killing them', he said, as reported by CNN. 'This way, we know which to isolate from the others.'

Vector

Vector State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology is involved in research of especially dangerous viruses. Picture: Vector Research Centre

Mollivirus sibericum is the latest of four so-called 'giant viruses'. It is visible under a light microscope, like a bacteria, and it has a large number of genes.

Netesov said: 'The mechanism of its reproduction is very interesting, because, apparently, these viruses are intermediate organisms between bacteria and protozoa and viruses.' He said the 'longevity' of Mollivirus sibericum was linked to the survivability of the host amoebas.

'It is unlikely that these viruses were 'asleep' for so long,' he said. 'They just kept in their host organisms, periodically 'waking up' with amoebas when the permafrost was thawing. So they continue to live in such way - 'waking up' and then 'falling asleep'.  But their own hosts - amoebas - are extremely tenacious.'

Comments (1)

OR, by some scientific foul up, could this be the pandemic that wipes out the Human Race?
Elizabeth, Barrie, ON, Canada
14/09/2015 22:22
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