Giant viruses are discovered lurking on the Greenland Ice Sheet

The idea of a giant virus lurking on a vast ice sheet might sound like the plot to the latest science fiction blockbuster. 

But it's become a reality, after researchers discovered giant viruses while exploring the Greenland ice sheet. 

Before you panic that the viruses could spark the next pandemic, there's good news.  1/1 Skip Ad Continue watchingafter the adVisit Advertiser websiteGO TO PAGE

Scientists from Aarhus University say the viruses could actually be a good thing. 

'We don't know a lot about the viruses, but I think they could be useful as a way of alleviating ice melting caused by algal blooms,' said Laura Perini, who led the study.  +6 View gallery Copy link to paste in your message

The idea of a giant virus lurking on a vast ice sheet might sound like the plot to the latest science fiction blockbuster. But it's become a reality, after researchers discovered giant viruses while exploring the Greenland ice sheet +6 View gallery Copy link to paste in your message

Before you panic that the viruses could spark the next pandemic, there's good news. Scientists from Aarhus University say the viruses could actually be a good thing Read More Ancient 'zombie' viruses frozen in permafrost for 50,000 years are thawing due to climate change - and could have 'disastrous' effects for humans

On the Greenland Ice Sheet, algae lay dormant on the ice until the springtime, when they start to bloom and blacken large areas of the ice. 

When the ice blackens, its ability to reflect the sun diminishes and this accelerates the melting of the ice, thereby exacerbating global warming.

But researchers believe the newly discovered giant viruses might help with the snow algae growth - and maybe in the long run reduce some of the ice from melting.

'How specific [the viruses] are and how efficient it would be, we do not know yet,' Ms Perini said. 

'But by exploring them further, we hope to answer some of those questions.' TRENDING One of the oldest books in the world is up for sale 226 viewing now Apple WWDC 2024 LIVE updates: including iOS 18, AI features and more 513 viewing now Dr Michael Mosley died outside resort two hours after he left his wife 26.3k viewing now

Giant viruses were first discovered in 1981, when researchers found them in the ocean. 

These viruses had specialised in infecting green algae in the sea. 

Later, giant viruses were found in soil on land and even in humans. +6 View gallery Copy link to paste in your message

Algae lying dormant on the ice starts blooming in springtime, blackening large areas of the ice. When the ice blackens, its ability to reflect the sun diminishes and this accelerates the melting of the ice, thereby exacerbating global warming Read More 'Giant' viruses that formed 1.5bn years ago are discovered in Yellowstone's Hot Springs

However, the new discovery marks the first time that giant viruses have been found living on the surface ice and snow dominated by microalgae, according to Ms Perini.

'We analysed samples from dark ice, red snow and melting holes (cryoconite),' she said. 

'In both the dark ice and red snow we found signatures of active giant viruses. 

'And that is the first time they've been found on surface ice and snow containing a high abundance of pigmented microalgae.

'A few years ago everyone thought this part of the world to be barren and devoid of life. But today we know that several microorganisms live there - including the giant viruses.

'There's a whole ecosystem surrounding the algae. Besides bacteria, filamentous fungi and yeasts, there are protists eating the algae, different species of fungi parasitising them and the giant viruses that we found, infecting them.

'In order to understand the biological controls acting on the algal blooms, we need to study these last three groups.' +6 View gallery Copy link to paste in your message

Researchers say they might have found a way to control the snow algae growth - and maybe in the long run reduce some of the ice from melting +6 View gallery Copy link to paste in your message

'How specific [the viruses] are and how efficient it would be, we do not know yet,' Ms Perini said

Because giant viruses are a relatively new discovery, not a lot is known about them. 

In contrast to most other viruses, they have a lot of active genes that enable them to repair, replicate, transcribe and translate DNA.

But why that is and exactly what they use it for is not known.

'Which hosts the giant viruses infect, we can't link exactly. Some of them may be infecting protists while others attack the snow algae. We simply can't be sure yet,' Ms Perini said.

The scientist is working hard on discovering more about the giant viruses and has more research coming out soon.

'We keep studying the giant viruses to learn more about their interactions and what is exactly is their role in the ecosystem,' she added. 

'Later this year we'll release another scientific with some more info on giant viruses infecting a cultivated microalgae thriving on the surface ice of the Greenland Ice Sheet.' Sea levels may rise by 0.5C as Greenland's ice sheets start to melt Loaded: 0%Progress: 0%0:00PreviousPlaySkipLIVEMute00:00Current Time 0:00/Duration Time 2:44FullscreenNeed TextVideo Quality576p540p360p270pForeground---WhiteBlackRedGreenBlueYellowMagentaCyan---OpaqueSemi-OpaqueBackground---WhiteBlackRedGreenBlueYellowMagentaCyan---OpaqueSemi-TransparentTransparentWindow---WhiteBlackRedGreenBlueYellowMagentaCyan---OpaqueSemi-TransparentTransparentFont Size50%75%100%125%150%175%200%300%400%Text Edge StyleNoneRaisedDepressedUniformDropshadowFont FamilyDefaultMonospace SerifProportional SerifMonospace Sans-SerifProportional Sans-SerifCasualScriptSmall CapsDefaultsDone

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