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Sci-Fi Earth Medicine Science

Dormant Diseases Frozen In the Ice Are Waking Up ( 173

boley1 writes: Like a plot from a Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) movie, evil is waking up as permafrost melts due to weather or natural, man-made, local, and/or global climate change. (Take your pick of any or all -- doesn't matter -- the plot and result is roughly the same.) According the the BBC, a 12-year-old boy died and at least twenty people were hospitalized after being infected by a disease (anthrax) that lay buried in the ice for 75 years. "The theory is that, over 75 years ago, a reindeer infected with anthrax died and its frozen carcass became trapped under a layer of frozen soil, known as permafrost," reports BBC. "There it stayed until a heatwave in the summer of 2016, when the permafrost thawed." In this case, bringing back the disease was accidental, but the story goes on to give examples of scientists (no indication of whether they are mad or not) purposefully seeing what ancient bacteria and virus they can resurrect from the ice. How many more diseases are lurking in the ice? Will The Andromeda Strain be released by meddling scientists or global warming?
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Dormant Diseases Frozen In the Ice Are Waking Up

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  • First... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Thursday May 04, 2017 @09:47PM (#54358417)

    to die horribly in this sci-fi movie. ;)

    • Your sacrifice is appreciated. If you are the first of many billions it would rapidly solve a whole lot of the problems facing our species. And introduce others of course, but hey, let's try to stay positive.

    • Lets face it the summary was written by a fuckwit I mean "Meddling scientists"? What is slash dot coming to with this clickbait rubbish!
  • Um, right (Score:3, Funny)

    by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Thursday May 04, 2017 @09:47PM (#54358419) Homepage Journal
    Sure, he got it from anthrax from a 75-year old reindeer. Ridiculous.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Anthrax spores survive at least 40 years under mild conditions at the soil, as the British discovered in their weapons testing island.

      • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

        Seem to remember a few decades ago that they found live Y-P in a couple of plague pits from the 1500's(might have been 1800's been a long time since I read the article) in the UK. It had survived by living inside other bacteria, and did so rather happily. There's an article this for anyone interested in reading about it. []

    • Re:Um, right (Score:5, Informative)

      by Gryle ( 933382 ) on Thursday May 04, 2017 @11:40PM (#54358735)
      It may sound far-fetched, but it's possible. Anthrax spores are ridiculously hardy under natural conditions and can survive in their dormant state for years. (Decontamination is done with either high heat (120 celcius) or some rather nasty chemicals.) Gruinard Island is the most famous example, but there are other cases of dormant anthrax spores "waking up" decades after the original victim, either animal or human, died from infection. Anthrax can also spread by inhalation, touch (if there's an open wound), or ingestion. Let's say one of the reindeer walked by the original corpse and inhaled some spores. Reindeer gets infected. Reindeer herders slaughter reindeer before it shows symptoms and eat the meat. Now they're infected.
      • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Friday May 05, 2017 @10:22AM (#54360575) Journal

        It may sound far-fetched, but it's possible. Anthrax spores are ridiculously hardy under natural conditions and can survive in their dormant state for years.

        And it happens all the time, mostly outside the cities. Anthrax is also called "wool sorter's disease" and several other names. The spores are very hardy and can survive centuries of "ordinary' harsh environments. Changes in weather on a decade scale, which in "good years" bring vegetation and browsing animals to areas that are only intermittently fertile, can also bring an anthrax outbreak, resulting form an animal visit an infected site.

        This is nothing new. It happens that it's currently a rare thing in the US (where it happens only a couple times a year - low compared to 16 cases of Bubonic Plague in 2015) and Northern Europe. But country folk are aware of it and take precautions. Anthrax, though very serious, is susceptible to antibiotics. The common form of the infection is a characteristic skin lesion (from a spore carried into a skin break), which is easy to diagnose and relatively benign (i.e. only one-in-five die if not treated, as opposed to about half WITH treatment for a Respiratory (inhaled spore) case, or a quarter to two-thirds for gastrointestinal (ate contaminated vegies or diseased meat).

        (I heard of one case - not sure if it was anthrax or another long-term spore-forming disease - where someone doing a major cleanup of a historic house where people with the disease had been treated decades before - was apparently exposed when scraping the dirt out from between the cracks of the floorboards.)

        Because it's almost unheard of in cities it's a great opportunity for global-warming alarmists to gin up another panic, now that they've got a case they can blame on melting ice. If they can get that meme going they can then yell about global warming at each good-weather outbreak - which means several times a year.

    • Re:Um, right (Score:5, Informative)

      by Xest ( 935314 ) on Friday May 05, 2017 @03:15AM (#54359243)

      Probably the first myth to dispel is that anthrax is some magical thing conjured up by governments for biological warfare. It's not, it's a naturally occurring bacteria, most common in warmer climates of Southern Europe and Africa, but also present in North America too. It's typically carried by animals, both through contact, and through ingestion (which in turn allows it to be transmitted from prey, to predator), and of the roughly couple of thousand natural cases of human infection that occur across the world every year, many are in people working in industries such as tanning - i.e. working with infected animal hides.

      Part the reason this natural bacteria was chosen for weaponisation was precisely it's resilience, and it's ease of infection, coupled with it's relatively high fatality rate. It shouldn't be surprising therefore that an animal carcass frozen in ice could still infect someone given it's properties of resilience, infection, and the fact that animal carcasses are exactly where you would most likely encounter it in the first place.

      Given this, I'm intrigued to know if you still think it's ridiculous, and if so, why?

    • Sure, he got it from anthrax from a 75-year old reindeer. Ridiculous.

      I propose a theme song for this movie: Reindeer got run over by a permafrost! Do be do be do do do do do

    • by Zemran ( 3101 )
      The story was trapped in permafrost for a year as well.
    • There's this strange notion that freezing or suffocating (storing something in a vacuum) something kills bacteria/mold. But its generally not true (yes there are microbes that die in the freezing cold, but they are the exception) - freezing things only slows down growth.

      There's an old (but good) article Nasa wrote about this: [] - also one of the reasons sattelites and other spacecraft are made in clean rooms these days.

  • by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Thursday May 04, 2017 @09:53PM (#54358433)
    Come ON, Slashdot.

    Anthrax isn't a "dormant disease." There's live anthrax running around all over the place. It's not some ancient disease that's suddenly re-emerging because of global warming. What nonsense.
    • indeed, would you rather touch anthrax ridden poop fresh from the deer, or one cold from the permafrost. Guess which will have higher infection load.

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Thursday May 04, 2017 @11:26PM (#54358699)

      During WW1, German agents [] in American ports infected horses with anthrax to kill them before they arrived in France. It is not clear exactly how many horses died, but the number was roughly zero. It is not clear why their actions were so ineffective.

      • It is not clear why their actions were so ineffective.

        Here's a guess: germ warfare is actually more difficult than people who haven't tried to do it would guess. There's a very good reason that British scientists in WW2 had to carry out experiments to learn how to successfully weaponise anthrax.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I don't think this is clickbait. However, I suspect that the concerns in the article are a bit overblown.

      Viruses are often highly specific in the hosts that they target, meaning that viruses that were formant in the permafrost might have a hard time finding suitable hosts in the present day. I'm skeptical that viruses that targeted Neanderthals could also infect modern humans.

      The article also mentions antibiotic resistance, but I suspect that is also overblown. The problem is that bacteria develop the re

      • by Anonymous Coward

        >> Bacteria that have been frozen in permafrost for thousands of years wouldn't have encountered our man-made antibiotics and, therefore, probably aren't resistant to our antibiotics

        However, modern man would have very little immunity so it'd make a lot of people sick quickly.

      • I'm skeptical that viruses that targeted Neanderthals could also infect modern humans.

        Plenty of disease that attack humans can either live in animals or have close relatives that do, & flatheads are much more closely related to us than we are to ducks. []

    • by Xest ( 935314 )

      Agree, I think the fact a modern bacteria has done this is merely evidence that there are deadly modern bacteria out there.

      This doesn't state anything about long dormant deadly diseases wiping us out, on the contrary, it's unlikely that a particularly ancient disease would bare much threat to modern humans - the odds are our bodies have been fighting it's descendants off for the last few thousand or however many years, and vast amounts of the genomes of modern living things that are currently inactive are t

      • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

        Bubonic plague is endemic in squirrels in Los Angeles; that's why the Parks Dept. occasionally flea-sprays the parks, to prevent transmission to humans. However considering the vast and vibrant rat population in LA, as you say chances are most humans are genetically immune, or we'd see more than the very rare case. (In fact such immunity in surviving generations is one theory, somewhat backed by DNA evidence, why the great medieval plagues petered out in the first place.)

    • But dude, GLOBAL WARMING.

    • "More idiotic click-bait (Score:5, Informative)"

      Should have been moderated -1, stupid.

      An interesting story. Sorry you aren't interested in biological news, but nevertheless, it's an interesting story related to science and technology and appropriate to a news website

      Anthrax isn't a "dormant disease."

      Anthrax isn't a "dormant disease." This particular anthrax outbreak, however, was from anthrax dormant while frozen in permafrost.

  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Thursday May 04, 2017 @09:55PM (#54358439)

    You (and the BBC) want me to be freaked out because Permfrost is melting. Yet:

    "The theory is that, over 75 years ago, a reindeer infected with anthrax died and its frozen carcass became trapped under a layer of frozen soil, known as permafrost,"

    Ok, so either 75 years ago it was melted enough for the reindeer to sink in, or the permafrost that is melting is a mere 75 years old, not thousands of years old as the name "permafrost" is meant to imply.

    Any time someone is proclaiming doom now I look for the agenda behind it - and sadly these days it is always there.

      • So the stuff that is melting was not around 75 years ago, how much methane is that going to release exactly? Considering it spent much of the time frozen, not decomposing?

        Or if it was melted before and then froze why would it release a lot of methane now it did not before?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      No, it's a clumsy attempt by some clueless editor to conflate two things.

      The reindeer was frozen, now it's thawing, and anthrax was released. In addition, but not actually covered by this story, areas of permafrost are also thawing, and this may (conjecturally, but plausibly) also contain nasty bacteria or even viruses that have been frozen for thousands or even millions of years.

      Yes, it's alarmism, yes it's got an agenda, but it's not as organised as you think. What you're seeing is the product of routine

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Hardly alarmism, when they have an example case. Albeit from a human made, 1941 mass cull and burial of animals to control an outbreak of Anthrax. It's still a case of a permafrost that they once believed would be forever, gone.

        Not just gone, but its 35 degree heat wave in Siberia right now. That's gone with a fooking vengence.

        SuperKendall makes the claim its all an agenda, well yeh, Superkendall does that for all global warming articles.

        • its 35 degree heat wave in Siberia right now

          I assume you mean it's 35 degrees Fahrenheit, and therefore relatively hot compared with 0 Fahrenheit?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This is just diseases being frozen for a while, no where near to True AI.

      We will never have true AI.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      thousands of years old as the name "permafrost" is meant to imply.

      "Permafrost" means the material (water, dirt, rock and organic matter) remained frozen for two years or more.

      The assumption is that a thin layer of permafrost accumulated atop the carcass over the last 75 years. Due to unusually warm conditions in recent years this thin layer of permafrost thawed or melted. This doesn't mean that the thin layer wasn't permafrost, nor does it mean that the reindeer sank into layers thousands of years old. It does mean that where warm conditions persist permafrost will con

    • You can fool some of the editors all of the time.
    • by radarskiy ( 2874255 ) on Friday May 05, 2017 @12:17AM (#54358863)

      Permafrost does not extend to the surface. For any particular environment with permafrost, there is 1) a depth at which the maximum temperature does not exceed freezing (permafrost table), 2) a depth where the temperature does not vary with the season, and 3) a depth where geothermal heat keeps the temperature above freezing (permafrost base). Permafrost is what is between the permafrost table and base.

      As new soil is laid down, any covered objects such as an animal carcass are deeper and deeper and eventually reach the depth of the permafrost table where they become permanently frozen. However, if seasonal highs are increasing fast enough then the permafrost table can be lowering faster than new soil can be added so that objects previously below the table are now above it and start thawing.

      So there is no agenda, you just didn't know what "permafrost" really meant.

      • Stupid slashdot moderation drop-down, accidentally choose the wrong option and it's immediately applied with no way to undo it except to post on the story and also undo all other mods already made.
    • Any time someone is proclaiming doom now I look for the agenda behind it - and sadly these days it is always there.

      It's not "sadly," that's a good thing. It's when the doom is real that you really want to start worrying.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The BBC article does not say it "became trapped", the summary mis-quotes the BBC.

      This was 1941, those will be buried contaminated carcasses from the 1941 outbreak. They didn't fall over and get covered with ice. The got rounded up into a pit, shot and covered over in the ice.

    • by Kiuas ( 1084567 ) on Friday May 05, 2017 @05:47AM (#54359523)

      Any time someone is proclaiming doom now I look for the agenda behind it - and sadly these days it is always there.

      Any and all statements made have an agenda. What you just did is take a single anecdote about this story, namely that the permafrost layer is not constant (which no-one anywhere has ever claimed to begin with), and used that to arrive to the unfounded conclusion that there cannot possibly be a problem with the observed thawing of the permafrost layers across the arctic regions: []

      The study published in Nature Climate Change and led by Northern Arizona University assistant research professor, Christina Schädel, analysed 25 Arctic soil incubation studies and discovered that the majority of that carbon emitted was in the form of carbon dioxide even in the low oxygen conditions, with only five per cent of the total anaerobic products being methane.

      This means that even though methane packs 34 times the climate warming punch of carbon dioxide, methane fluxes were not high enough to compensate for the smaller total quantity of carbon released under low oxygen conditions in wet soils.

      Dr Hartley said: "In different boreal and arctic ecosystems, permafrost thaw can expose previously-frozen organic matter to very different soil conditions. The results of our study indicate that where the soils remain dry there is much greater potential for large amounts of carbon to be released to the atmosphere and for there to a positive feedback to climate change."

      Scientists in the international Permafrost Carbon Network that Schädel co-leads with Northern Arizona University professor of ecosystem ecology, Ted Schuur, provided much of the data.

      Dr Schädel said: "Our results show that increasing temperatures have a large effect on carbon release from permafrost but that changes in soil moisture conditions have an even greater effect," says Schädel. "We conclude that the permafrost carbon feedback will be stronger when a larger percentage of the permafrost zone undergoes thaw in a dry and oxygen-rich environment."

      As the permafrost thaws, microbes wake up and begin digesting the newly available remains of ancient plants and animals stored as carbon in the soil. This digestion produces either carbon dioxide or methane, depending on soil conditions. Scientists want to understand the ratio of carbon dioxide to methane gas released by this process because it affects the strength of the permafrost carbon feedback loop: greenhouse gases released due to thawing permafrost cause temperatures to rise, leading to even more thawing and carbon release. Furthermore, the Arctic permafrost is like a vast underground storage tank of carbon, holding almost twice as much as the atmosphere. At that scale, small changes in how the carbon is released will have big effects.

      Yeah, those infernal scientists with their nasty 'agenda' of trying to understand the ecosystem better so we can actually do something about the issue. Surely all the data must be irrelevant, after all it'd be unfathomable to think that permafrost can still form in some places whilst its total amount is going down, and this entire process could still have vast negative feedback-loop effects because its self-accelerating. Everyone knows after all that either it's warming universally everywhere making frozen reindeer impossible, or it's not warming at all! Checkmate.

      I was convinced of this based on all the data and research, but your astute observation that 75 years ago a patch in Siberia was cold enough to freeze (gasp!) has totally changed my mind on peer-reviewed research. The clever scientists thought they could get away by making silly claims about the climate being a complex system which can have extreme temperatures on both ends of the scale even as the total energy of the system is going up, but NO MORE thanks to brave warriors like you!

      This singul

      • Perhaps you missed this excellent posting: []
        Or it is simply to complicated for you to grasp?

        • by Kiuas ( 1084567 )

          Perhaps you missed this excellent posting:

          I did not. it's an excellent post and I fully agree with it. It doesn't mean that the increasing thaw of permafrost is not an issue.

          Or it is simply to complicated for you to grasp?

          No, no it isn't, but apparently my attempt in sarcastic responding was.

    • Recall that the 1930's were arguably the warmest decade on record. Something like half the record temperatures set by state in the United States date from the 30's. There was something of a peak in the early 40's, and then it actually cooled for around 30 years.

      Or at least, that's what the temperature record showed until the late 1990s, when it was serially "adjusted" to cool the past relative to the present and emphasize the warming of the 80s (another warm decade) through early 90's.

      So it isn't all th

  • Unfrozen? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 04, 2017 @10:06PM (#54358469)

    Announcer: [ over SUPER ] "One hundred thousand years ago, a caveman was out hunting on the frozen wastes when he slipped and fell into a crevasse. In 1988, he was discovered by some scientists and thawed out. He then went to law school and became.. Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.

    Jingle: "He used to be a caveman,
    but now he's a lawyer.
    Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer!"

    Announcer: Brought to you by.. Gas Plus - actually gives you gas, for those times when you feel like being the joker; and by National Escort Services - if we don't get a prostitute to your door in 15 minutes, you don't pay; and by Happy Fun Ball - still legal in 16 states - it's legal, it's fun, it's Happy Fun Ball! And now, tonight's episode of "Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer".

    [ open on interior, courtroom, the Judge banging her gavel ]

    Judge: Mr. Cirroc, are you ready to give your summation?

    Cirroc: [ stepping out] It's just "Cirroc", your Honor.. and, yes, I'm ready. [ approaches the jury box ] Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I'm just a caveman. I fell on some ice and later got thawed out by some of your scientists. Your world frightens and confuses me! Sometimes the honking horns of your traffic make me want to get out of my BMW.. and run off into the hills, or wherever.. Sometimes when I get a message on my fax machine, I wonder: "Did little demons get inside and type it?" I don't know! My primitive mind can't grasp these concepts. But there is one thing I do know - when a man like my client slips and falls on a sidewalk in front of a public library, then he is entitled to no less than two million in compensatory damages, and two million in punitive damages. Thank you.

    Judge: The jury will now retire to deliberate.

    Jury Foreman: [ standing ] Your Honor.. we don't need to retire. Cirroc's words are just as true now as they were in his time. We give him the full amount.

    [ the jury applauds Cirroc ]

    Judge: Did you hear that, Mr. Cirroc?

    Cirroc: [ cell phone to his ear ] Hang on a second.. [ to the judge ] I-I'm sorry, your Honor. I was listening to the magic voices coming out of this strange modern invention! [ smiles maliciously to the camera ]

    Announcer: This has been "Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer". Join us next week for another episode. Here's a scene. [ cut to Cirroc and his caveman family standing before a podium at a political rally ]

    Cirroc: Thank you! Thank you very much, thank you! First of all, let me say how happy I am to be your nominee for the United States Senate! [ applause ] You know.. thank you.. I don't really understand your Congress, or your system of checks and balances.. because, as I said during the campaign - I'm just a caveman! I fell on some ice, and later got thawed out by scientists. But there is one thing I do know - we must do everything in our power to lower the Capitol Gains Tax. Thank you!

    Announcer: Next time, on "Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer".

  • Will The Andromeda Strain be released by meddling scientists or global warming?

    Wouldn't The Thaw [] be a more appropriate move reference?

    • Wouldn't The Thaw [] be a more appropriate move reference?

      I thought the story was click-bait for a British TV series on Sky (and Amazon) called Fortitude []. Totally same idea, except in the show the reindeer is a mammoth, and instead of anthrax it's larvae from an ice-age insect that infect people's brains. Coincidence?

  • It gives us a chance to eradicate some of these ancient diseases for good.
    Rather than going "Locked in the ice. Too much trouble!"

    • Hey, we destroy them, they destroy us, toe-may-toe, toe-mah-toe. Either way we're gonna have a rumble. Break out the beer and pretzels and grab yourself a chair.

    • Or it gives them a chance to eradicate us for good.

      Either way, the world will be a better place, so what's to fear?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Well that's the background story in the videogame "The Talos Principle", warming permafrost releases an ancient virus that infected primates in the distant past and kills off humanity too quickly for a vaccine to be created.

  • "It is believed to have spread from reindeer."

    Right. So, they don't actually know what has been acting as a reservoir for the disease. This is similar to Ebola (pick a strain): the reservoir is bats! No, it's monkeys! No, it's in the water! Wait...

  • Personally, I'm hopeful that the permafrost will evaporate, and we'll have giant lizard monsters with lime jello tails roaming the streets. Just think how delicious that would be.

  • Forget movies (Score:4, Informative)

    by JThundley ( 631154 ) on Thursday May 04, 2017 @11:21PM (#54358683) Homepage

    This was the plot of the beautiful and great game The Talos Principle!

  • upon entering the earth, maybe a virus travelling on an asteroid can survive too. It's possible that some of the pandemics that have plagued this planet came from space since the illness occurred across several continents near instantaneously. Just saying we all are always going to experience such risks whether from this planet or elsewhere. Just maintain your health and hopefully your own immune system will be strong enough to survive the onslaught. :)
  • Ultimate proof that climate change kills!
  • by Barlo_Mung_42 ( 411228 ) on Friday May 05, 2017 @02:13AM (#54359129) Homepage

    Melting the ice isn't cutting it. We need to start boiling the ice.

  • It is a plot from The X Files. Evil alien virus-goo, frozen for tens of thousands of years.
  • Good grief....everything is Man's fault.
  • We need a good gene pool cleanse
  • Both the OP and the Slashdot editors don't know a damn thing about what The Andromeda Strain was about; it was about an alien organism, not anything Earth-evolved that was buried under ice.
  • 1. Pro tip, don't poke rotting corpses exposed by melting ice.
    2. Bacteria and viruses exposed by melting snow (supposedly under sunny conditions) don't last very long under the UV bombardment, so even if the Andromeda Strain does get released, it will most likely be destroyed by UV radiation long before it can infect someone.

  • In August 2016, in a remote corner of Siberian tundra called the Yamal Peninsula

    (My emphasis.)

    It's not particularly remote. The Yamal peninsula is just NE of the northern end of the Ural mountains, which are traditionally taken as the eastern border of Europe. And with the region's warming over the last few (and next many) decades, it's goign to get less remote.

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