After coronavirus, next pandemic may come crawling from the melting glaciers
A new study suggests that the next viral pandemic may emerge from the Arctic amid melting glaciers caused by climatic change, increasing risks of next Ebola, influenza, or SARS-CoV-2 arriving sooner than predicted by the experts.
In an attempt to identify viruses present in the environment, researchers analysed solid and lake sediment from Lake Hazen, a freshwater lake in the northern part of Ellesmere Island in Canada (north of the Arctic Circle). The scientists sequenced segments of DNA and RNA found in the soil.
They used a computer algorithm to understand how the viruses are related to animal, plant, and fungi hosts present in the area. After the analysis, the team learned about the viral spillover risk.
The risk is basically the ability for viruses to reach into new host species, and eventually keep spreading. Similar to what the world saw during the initial spread of SARS-CoV-2.
In their paper published in 'Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences', the researchers wrote: "Spillover risk increases with runoff from glacier melt, a proxy for climate change. Should climate change also shift species range of potential viral vectors and reservoirs northwards, the High Arctic could become fertile ground for emerging pandemics."
The researcher also compared the evolutionary path of both viruses and hosts. They sought to find what are the variations and similarities between the two. The comparison could help the experts to understand the possibility of a change to the status quo and subsequent viral spillover.
While explaining it, the researchers wrote in the paper: "From an evolutionary standpoint, viruses are more prone to infecting hosts that are phylogenetically close to their natural host, potentially because it is easier for them to infect and colonize species that are genetically similar."