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Ancient Microbes

In August 2016, an outbreak of anthrax in Siberia sickened 72 people and took the life of a 12-year-old boy. Health officials pinpointed the outbreak to an unusual source.

Abnormally high temperatures had thawed the corpses of long-dead reindeer and other animals. Some of these bodies may have been infected with anthrax, the soil in Siberia is normally much too cold to dig deep graves. The worse part of this is that the disease from thawing human and animal remains can get into groundwater that people drink. Scientists are worried that as more permafrost thaws, especially in Siberia, there may be more outbreaks of long-dormant anthrax as burial grounds thaw.

That’s because the deep freeze of the permafrost doesn’t just keep carbon from escaping — it keeps microbes intact as well. Permafrost is the place to preserve bacteria and viruses for hundreds of thousands — if not a million — years. It is dark, it is cold, and it is also without oxygen and there is no