Yersinia pestis detected in a 5,000 year old skeleton from Russian steppes

The bacteria believed to be the cause of the Black Death has been detected in several bodies from over a hundred tested from the Russian steppes. One is over 5,000 years old and pushed back the first known case back 3,000 years. Another interesting detail is the the disease lacked the adaptation that allows it to survive in the gut of fleas, which made it much hard to transmit.

30,000 year old giant virus

New giant virus, Mollivirus sibericum, has been discovered in the melting permafrost of the Siberian ArcticPithovirus sibericum, another giant virus described last year, came from the same sample.

Two interesting details:

  • More giant viruses! Their discovery changing the interpretations of how viruses evolved. Nifty!
  • Global climate change will have more frozen viruses thawing out. Some might be virulent.

I listened to this Radiolab broadcast on giant viruses a few weeks ago right before stumbling across this story. It’s obvious in retrospect, but it surprised me how viruses actually evolved to become smaller.

30,000 year old giant virus discovered in Siberian permafrost

30,000 year old giant virus discovered in Siberian permafrostMollivirus sibericum is from the same sample in which Pithovirus sibericum was discovered last year. It’ll be interesting to see what else comes up, because the relatively recent giant viruses, hiding in plain sight, have altered the understanding of how viruses evolved. It’ll also be interesting to see whether any of these viruses will thaw in the global climate change and turn out to be virulent.

By the way, it’s not all that shocking to find a frozen virus 30,000 years old. They’re not even technically alive. Hell, there have been 750,000 year old bacteria, actual living organisms, that have been thawed out.

Monkey brain-net

Wiring together a network of brains cannot go awry, can it?

He dismissed comparisons with science fiction plots, however, saying: “We’re conditioned by movies and Hollywood to think that everything related to science is dangerous and scary. These scary scenarios never crossed my mind and I’m the one doing the experiments.”

Or he could read science fiction, which be uncannily prescient with future-tech concepts. This is wondrous and fascinating research, but the way the ethical concerns gets waved off as Hollywood-induced paranoia, in the same way genetic engineering does, is unnerving.