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A scare from New Scientist: Melting permafrost could release ancient viruses that cause the next pandemic


It would, of course, be a great plotline for a sci-fi film:

IN NOVEMBER 2019, the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine held a workshop to discuss an emerging disease threat. Not covid-19: they were a couple of months too early for that. Instead, they were trying to figure out what to do about microorganisms trapped in glaciers, ice sheets and permafrost, which will be released as the world warms and the ice thaws.

Michael Marshall, “Could ancient viruses from melting permafrost cause the next pandemic?” at New Scientist (February 16, 2022)

They needn’t have worried. The government-induced panic and disastrous decision-making around COVID-19 was just as bad as if that virus had been “Death from the Frozen Hell” from the Permian era.

During the meeting, Alexander Volkovitskiy from the Russian Academy of Sciences recounted an alarming incident. It took place in 2016 on the Yamal peninsula on Russia’s northern coast where local people herd hundreds of thousands of reindeer. That summer, temperatures were unseasonably warm and some of the permafrost thawed. The bacterium that causes anthrax – which had been present on the peninsula for over a century – emerged from the soil and spread like wildfire. Before the outbreak was brought under control, more than 2000 reindeer had perished. Dozens of people also caught the disease, including an unnamed boy who died.

This story could be a harbinger of what is to come.

Michael Marshall, “Could ancient viruses from melting permafrost cause the next pandemic?” at New Scientist (February 16, 2022)

Wait. Anthrax is a well-known predator of hoofed animals and those who herd them can get it. If the boy who died is unnamed, were there any medical records?

See how panics get started?

Virus variants get started all the time in the real world. Any permafrost crowd would probably need to take a number and wait with the rest of them (unless it is an established predator like the anthrax bacterium).

How about “We might even be exposed to ancient diseases that once infected Neanderthals” (from the story)

So let’s cast a Neanderthal in the film version, for sure.

The basis for such panic marketing is usually a correct science observation — in this case, that microscopic life forms (and viruses) may hibernate for long periods in ice. However, as the New Scientist article notes, “bacteria that infect humans are adapted to live at our body temperatures, so it is highly unlikely that they would survive for long periods below zero.”

A bacterium can’t see future needs on its own so to have been adapted to survival for long periods in ice, it would be a fluke like anthrax or a product of engineering.

It’s an interesting article, full of useful information, but the situation is not, as the author, Michael Marshall, admits, a reason for panic.

In any event, the virus that causes COVID-19 was likely an escapee from a lab in Wuhan that was partly funded by the U.S. government. The motivated nonsense that we read in the science media that attempts to scuff out knowledge of that fact would be astounding if we didn’t already know what progressivism does to science.

At Mind Matters News: We trust nonsense from lab coats more than from gurus. It’s hard to understand why the researchers take comfort from finding that, worldwide, people will believe absolute nonsense if it comes from scientists.

The reason viruses lay under the permafrost is that the permafrost wasn't always there. 90,000,000 years ago there was no ice at either pole. Antarctica, the coldest place on the planet, had rain-forest conditions. Dinosaurs have been found from that time. Ice ages come and go and we are still in the last ice age. If we were not in an ice age, there would be no ice at either pole, which is far more common going back hundreds of millions of years, than ice ages. If the current temperature were average for hundreds of millions of years, there would be no end to ice ages and could be no dinosaurs roaming where they roamed, such as Canada, where they would freeze to death if brought to life today where they were. Then again, considering the oxygen content was higher, the dinosaurs would die from lack of oxygen. It would be kind of like putting people on top of Mount Everest without giving them a chance to acclimate. BobRyan
Sounds like the basis for a good SF movie. Seversky
I agree with Polistra. The powerful are just "getting themselves off" now. Same as it ever was. Andrew asauber
Panics are started by governments to increase the sexual thrill of governing. That's all. Viagra for demons. polistra

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