If we know anything about those macho scientists, it’s that they’re notorious for unzipping and showing off how big their viruses are. Well, a new group of French and Russian researchers have something to be extremely proud of: a virus large enough to be seen with only a light microscope. This is where I stop making penis jokes, because the whole microscope thing hits a little too close to home. You see, when I was a child and misbehaved, my parents would hit me in the penis with a microscope.
In what sounds like the worst idea ever, scientists decided to thaw out a chunk of 32,000-year-old permafrost. When they found THE WORLD’S LARGEST VIRUS alive inside, they named it Pithovirus, and decided to let it infect some amoebas. Shockingly, the amoebas didn’t grow to be 300 feet tall; they died. That means when the 300 foot tall amoebas inevitably attack, they will be zombie amoebas (zomboebas?)
Viruses this large are unusual, because they don’t generally carry everything they need to live. They only carry the genes they need to infect host cells; the hosts provide all the proteins needed to reproduce. That’s where Pithovirus, and other giant viruses differ. The extra room in Pithovirus carries proteins needed to set up a virus factory to replicate inside infected cells.
How much of a threat is Pithovirus to the health and well-being of humanity? Little, if any. As far as we know, they only infect amoebas. However, if the earth continues to warm, we could be thawing acres upon acres of permafrost. Dormant viruses could reawaken after millenia, and infect the inhabitants of these newly hospitable areas. But considering how often the average infectious virus mutates, there could be a good reason why organisms like Pithovirus haven’t been seen in thousands of years.