The Big Thaw

Modeling the release of ancient pathogens

June 1, 2023

Permafrost contains multitudes of trapped microbes that have been locked up in a deep freeze; in some cases, for half a million years. As the Arctic warms and the permafrost thaws, viruses, bacteria, and fungi are released into the soil, the atmosphere, and the water. 

What threats, if any, might ancient microbes pose to human health? To help answer this question, Laboratory microbiologist Armand Dichosa and computer modeler Michael Brown teamed up with evolutionary wildlife biologist Devin Drown from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Here's how their idea works. —Kyle Dickman