Two ice samples taken from the Tibetan Plateau in China have been found to contain viruses unlike any viruses that have been catalogued to date. Ohio State University researcher Zhi-Ping Zhong said,

“These glaciers were formed gradually, and along with dust and gases, many, many viruses were also deposited in that ice. The glaciers in western China are not well-studied, and our goal is to use this information to reflect past environments. And viruses are a part of those environments.”

The researchers analyzed ice cores taken in 2015 from the Guliya ice cap in western China. The ice cores contain layers of ice that accumulate year after year, trapping whatever was in the atmosphere around them at the time each layer froze. Researchers determined that the ice was nearly 15,000 years old using a combination of traditional and new, novel techniques to date this ice core.

When they analyzed the ice, they found genetic codes for 33 viruses. Four of those viruses have already been identified by the scientific community. But at least 28 of them are novel. It is believed the viruses originated with soil or plants, not with animals – or humans.

“We know very little about viruses and microbes in these extreme environments, and what is actually there. What happens when we go from an ice age to a warm period like we’re in now?”


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