Future threat from the past

Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2021 Jan;28(2):1287-1291. doi: 10.1007/s11356-020-11234-9. Epub 2020 Oct 17.


Global warming is one of the major challenges facing humanity. The increase in the Earth's temperature and thawing of ancient ice release viable viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms which were trapped for thousands and millions of years. Such microorganisms may belong to novel microbial species, unknown genotypes of present pathogens, already eradicated pathogens, or even known pathogens that gained extremely robust characteristics due to their subjection to long-term stress. These worries drew more attention following the death of a child by ancient anthrax spores in Siberian in 2016 and the reconstruction of smallpox and Spanish flu genomes from ancient frozen biological samples. The present review illustrates some examples of recently recovered pathogens after being buried for millions of years, including some identified viable ancient viruses, bacteria and even other forms of life. While some pathogens could be revived, genomes of other ancient pathogens which could not be revived were re-constructed. The present study aims to highlight and alarm the hidden aspect of global warming on the international public health, which represents future threats from the past for humanity.

Keywords: Emerging diseases; Global warming; Mollivirus sibericum; Pithovirus sibericum.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Child
  • Fungi
  • Global Warming
  • Humans
  • Influenza Pandemic, 1918-1919*
  • Viruses* / genetics