Frozen caribou feces offers look at virus evolution

700-year-old caribou feces preserved in ice core

Intact samples of ancient viruses are hard to find. Extracting them from an ice core containing 700-year-old caribou feces (shown) has helped scientists better understand the diversity and evolution of the infectious agents.

Courtesy of Brian Moorman

Frozen feces may give hints about how viruses evolve.

Sequencing fragments of genetic material extracted from 700-year-old caribou feces uncovered two ancient viruses, which, when reconstructed, could still infect plants. The results suggest that viruses may be preserved for centuries in frozen material. Studying these ancient viruses could help scientists understand how diverse the infectious agents were in the past and how they evolve over time, the researchers write October 27 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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