Scientists worried about Russia’s ‘risky’ attempt to revive virus that killed mammoths | World | News

Scientists worried about Russia’s ‘risky’ attempt to revive virus that killed mammoths | World | News

These prehistoric viruses are thought to be up to 400,000 years old and have remained dormant in the frozen remains of woolly mammoths found in Yakutia, Russia, where temperatures can drop to -55C. This research is being conducted by the Russian Research Center for Virology and Biotechnology.

The Russian lab, also known as Vector, aims to understand how viruses evolve by studying such diseases.

The project is overseen at a former bioweapons laboratory in Russia’s Novosibirsk region, but Vector has 59 maximum security biolabs around the world.

Russian researchers hope to identify Ice Age viruses, also called paleoviruses, and revive them.

However, experts have expressed concern about the research, describing it as “risky” and acknowledging a lack of trust in the research establishment.

Professor Jean-Michel Claverie of the National Center for Scientific Research at Aix-Marseille University recently spoke to the Times to express his concerns.

He said: “[Vector’s research] is terrible. I’m totally against it.

“[It] is very, very risky. Our immune system has never encountered this type of virus. Some of them could be 200,000 or even 400,000 years old.

“But ancient viruses that infected animals or humans can still be infectious.”

As for confidence in Vector’s biosecurity, the scientist added, “I wouldn’t be so confident if everything was up to date.”

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The World Health Organization did not find any significant concerns during its last inspection of the facility in 2019, but the facility has had incidents in the past.

In 2019, a gas explosion caused a fire at the Vector facility, causing one worker to suffer third-degree burns from the explosion.

It also caused a window to crack, but at the time Vector said: “no work with biological materials was in progress”.

Another incident at the Vector lab occurred in 2014 when a researcher died after accidentally injecting herself with a needle containing the Ebola virus.

During the Soviet era in 1979, one of Vektor’s military research facilities accidentally released anthrax bacteria spores in the city of Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg).

The deadly outbreak killed at least 66 people, although Soviet authorities denied for years that such an incident had occurred and blamed the deaths on the consumption of infected meat.

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Filippa Lentzos, a biosecurity expert at King’s College London, warned that even the most secure laboratories could be breached.

She said: “Many of us who analyze and follow what they are doing are not convinced that the potential benefits, which are in the distant future, necessarily outweigh the very real risks that are in the present.

“Even with generally safe practices, accidents can still happen.”

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