Just a funny question

A frozen reindeer – or maybe an old cemetary – to blame for “zombie” anthrax outbreak in Siberia

In a nutshell, there’s been an outbreak of Anthrax, killing 1 boy, and hospitalizing a few dozen people, in Siberia.  Oh yes, and reindeer:  Over two thousand reindeer died from this “zombie” virus.

The outbreak is being traced back to “maybe” a reindeer that died from it 75 years ago and was then frozen in “permafrost”, only to thaw a little while back.  Oh wait – or alternatively, it may be that the old cemetery where people are buried, not in the ground but basically in coffins on stands, is the actual culprit, that somehow, animals got at one of the deceased.

Global warming is, of course, the culprit, because Siberia is having a record summer in which the “permafrost” that formed 75 years back, thawed.

Now for my question.

I thought, “permafrost” means at least thousands of years old ice?  Does ice that is less than a century old, count?

Also, does this mean that this ice wasn’t  around 75 years back and only formed after that?  In other words, there was as little ice 75 years back as there is now, having thawed back?  Doesn’t that mean that 75 years back it was as warm as it is today?  Was it Global Warming already then, and why was there permafrost inbetween?  And if not, how did that animal get into that ice 75 years back?

And lastly, if the cemetery was in 75-year-old permafrost (was it?  The article isn’t clear on this), what about before that?  Did they bury their stand-up coffins in permafrost, or did the permafrost setting in stop them from using that cemetery?  And if it wasn’t (in permafrost), is Global Warming still at fault if an animal simply found a decaying body in a free-standing cemetery and worried at it, collecting Anthrax en route?

Just asking, because I really don’t get it!


This is the image of the graveyard mentioned in that article.


10 thoughts on “Just a funny question

    • I have to agree with the both of you. The other reports about this incident are even weirder – they maintain (without a trace of doubt) that it was that reindeer, and mention nothing of the (frankly more plausible) graveyard. Regardless, one can hardly call something that froze over only 75 years back, “prehistoric”. If it had been a mammoth in a retreating glacier, I’d have run with that idea. But if something died only 75 years back and got trapped in ice after that (reindeer or human, regardless), that’s actually proof that there was no ice around it until after it died, which meant that that spot was as warm back then as today (even though cooling down, freezing over rather than melting like today, which implies that there was a cooling trend, which again implies that it may have been even warmer the year before this happened), which sort-of throws a local spanner in the global warming.

      So wherever the debate of global warming stands at current, this specific incident actually is not a particularly strengthening argument. There may be better ones.

      The part that the biologist in me fails to “get” is this:

      I thought reindeer were herbivores? What was a reindeer doing worrying an ancient defrosted decomposing body (human or animal regardless) and picking up Anthrax and spreading it to the herd??

    • The conspiracist – er, I mean, the conspiracy theorist in me would be inclined to run with Marie’s comment, and doubt the entire incident. I’m not doubting that there is an anthrax epidemic in Siberia’s reindeer, but I doubt the source of the epidemic. Defrosted animal/human remains? Really? What are they trying to cover up, which genetic experiment, which Monsanto evil has been committed this time?

    • That is a good question, and, unfortunately, yes, virus does survive indefinitely in frozen state. Virus has two phases, the active infective state when it is inside a cell replicating itself, and the “latent” stage where it is a complete virus particle with shell and all. Viruses don’t metabolize the way bacteria and everything else must; they can lie around in their latent phase forever without needing anything, just to activate when something yummy comes along. So unfortunately, if a virus has survived in an Egyptian mummy, it can infect a person today.

      Fungi have the nasty habit of creating spores that are metabolically inactive just like latent virus, and doing the same to “winter” over long stretches of foodless time.

    • Eeuukk! Why don’t they wear surgical masks or Hazmat suits when digging up long dead people on archaeology sites then? I didn’t think the spores would survive as I thought the ice would damage the cell structure, but obviously they are so small it doesn’t effect them. Nice answer!

    • It’s actually that the fungi manage to condense all their dry matter into spores while having practically no liquid in there. That way they last virtually forever. Cells would be popped by their water turning into ice; if there is minimal water, this damage does not happen and the spore remains intact. I agree they ought to wear masks and gloves when dealing with long-dead anythings.

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