Drilling hundreds of meters down into hundreds of years old ice in remote areas of the world, it just sounds like the beginning of a movie about the discovery of multiple pathogens unknown to modern science that should bring a “don’t try this at home” warning that scientists must have done what.
In 2015, an international team of researchers traveled to Guliya Ice Cap in northwestern Tibet to study the ancient virus. They drilled 50 meters (164 feet) deep into 15,000-year-old ice and took two main samples to study the germs inside. In a new study published in bioXiv, researchers studying these icy needles discovered that there are more than 30 virus groups, 28 of which are completely new to science.
The study of bacteria found in glacier ice dates back to the early 20th century, although it really began in the 1980s and ’90s when Vostok ice cores were recovered from East Antarctica at a depth of 3,623 meters (11,886 feet). The study of deep-frozen germs, bacteria, and viruses on ancient ice has given us a window into the environment and climate conditions long ago.
However, as seen in multiple studies. It is difficult to keep these specimens ancient and uncontrollable by anything remotely modern. The two ice chambers studied were collected in 1992 and 2015, respectively, and both were not pollution-free – at least outside. Instead, to access the inner core, they had to use a disinfectant saw and a house -5°C (23°F) to shave the layers until they reached uncontrolled ice.
The team used the opportunity to identify glacier ice as an “ultra-clean microbial and viral sampling method” and to provide a foundation dataset for other scientists studying the ice core. Using microbiology techniques they examined these samples and discovered 33 groups of viruses across both cores. They wrote in the study, “there was a significant difference between the two ice cells in the germs,” presumably to present the climate situation very differently during the accumulation. “
It is now important to investigate the mystery virus groups as the cause of this type of sample threat on both fronts of climate change. Ice cores not only document ancient bacteria but also help them understand the climate that allows certain germs to grow at that time. The extensive and documented melting of glacier ice means that these primitive specimens may not only be in the future but may also release long-dormant pathogens that we have no resistance to.
“At a minimum, [ice melting] can cause damage to microbial and viral archives that could be diagnostic and informative of the Earth’s past climate control,” the study authors say. “However, in the worst-case scenario, melting this ice can release germs into the environment.” The more privacy we can gather from these ancient iceless behemoths the better.