Viruses over 15,000 years old discovered frozen in a Tibetan glacier

A study by researchers at Ohio State University and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has found a large number of ancient viruses in ice core samples collected from a glacier on the Tibetan plateau that were approximately 15,000 years old.

In particular, the meticulous analysis of the ice cores revealed the presence of 33 groups of virus genera, 28 of which are not known to modern science.

The viruses have been found in ice cores on one of the oldest ice sheets on Earth: the Guliya ice cap, which is located west of the Kunlun Mountains on the Chinese side of the Tibetan plateau at an altitude of about 6,700 meters. This 200-square-kilometer ice crust began to form before the end of the last ice age.

New, cleaner and more meticulous techniques have been used to carry out the analysis so that there is no contamination: both drilling and taking samples from the ice makes it very easy to contaminate the ice with current microorganisms or DNA.

The discovery of viruses unknown to science, according to the authors of this research, is particularly relevant because, as the planet warms up due to global warming and glaciers melt, many other unknown viruses are likely to be reactivated, some of which could be fatal.