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In the Ice

Researchers have uncovered more than two dozen unknown ancient viruses within a 15,000-year-old Tibetan glacier, according to Cosmos magazine

An Ohio State University-led team adapted sample handling procedures to ensure that their ice core samples from the Guliya ice cap were free of contaminants. As they report in the journal Microbiome, the researchers uncovered common glacier-ice bacteria like Janthinobacterium, Polaromonas, Herminiimonas, and more, but their metagenomics analysis also found 28 novel viruses.

These viruses, the researchers note, likely infect the bacteria in their sample. Based on host prediction analyses, they linked 18 of their unknown viruses to co-occurring bacteria. They also report that the viruses harbor genes to help them survived  cold environments.

The findings, Cosmos magazine notes, raise questions about whether previously unknown viruses might be released as ice caps and glaciers melt due to climate change. "We know very little about viruses and microbes in these extreme environments, and what is actually there," senior author Lonnie Thompson from Ohio State says in a statement. "The documentation and understanding of that is extremely important: How do bacteria and viruses respond to climate change? What happens when we go from an ice age to a warm period like we're in now?"