Pithovirus is a genus of giant virus known from one species, Pithovirus sibericum, which infects amoebas. It is a double-stranded DNA virus, and is member of the nucleocytoplasmic large DNA viruses clade. It was first described in 2014 after a specimen was revived from a 30,000-year-old ice core harvested from Siberia’s permafrost.
Pithovirus sibericum was discovered in a 30,000 year old sample of Siberian permafrost by Chantal Abergel and Jean-Michel Claverie of Aix-Marseille University. The virus was discovered buried 30 m (98 ft) below the surface of a late Pleistocene sediment. It was found when riverbank samples harvested in 2000 were exposed to amoebas. The amoebas started dying and when examined were found to contain giant virus specimens. The genus name Pithovirus, a reference to large storage containers of ancient Greece known as pithos, was chosen to describe the new species. The authors said they got the idea to probe permafrost samples for new viruses after reading about an experiment that revived a similar aged seed of Silene stenophylla two years earlier. The Pithovirus findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in March 2014.
Although the virus is harmless to humans, its viability after being frozen for millennia has raised concerns that global climatechange and tundra drilling operations could lead to previously undiscovered and potentially deadly viruses being unearthed.
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