It is common knowledge that ice can preserve things. Now, think about a glacier that was formed more than 15,000 years ago and what kind of mysteries it is hiding. Instead of waiting for global warming to melt it, scientists went a step ahead and took samples from it. Upon closer inspections, they found the presence of 28 previously unknown virus groups.
The research was conducted on two separate already taken and preserved ice core samples of the Tibetan glacier from 1992 and 2015. It was assumed that the cores were not handled in a way that prevents contamination during drilling, handling, and transportation, so the scientists focused on the inside of the cores, which were uncontaminated.
The team had to work in a pretty cold room at -5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit) where they used a saw to cut 0.2 inches (0.5 centimeters) of outer ice, then ethanol to wash and melt another 0.2 inches of ice and then sterile water to wash another 0.2 inches to finally reach the inner layers.
All in all 33 groups of viruses were found in the ice cores, of which 28 were completely new to science. If the global temperature of the Earth continues to grow, there is a risk that the ice on the Tibetan Plateau and elsewhere will melt and release pathogens into the environment. In a worst-case scenario, the ancient viruses could spread among humans causing a significant global health concern, as the effects of the unknown pathogens cannot be predicted nor tackled without sufficient knowledge.
Scientists are also concerned that the ice melt could lead to the loss of microbial and viral archives that could be diagnostic and informative of past Earth climate regimes.
“The microbes differed significantly across the two ice cores, presumably representing the very different climate conditions at the time of deposition that is similar to findings in other cores,” the researchers wrote in their publication.