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  • Life - Health & Wellness
  • Updated: December 17, 2022

Ten Oldest Known Viruses In The World

Ten Oldest Known Viruses In The World

With the COVID-19 virus that recently ravaged the world, viruses are at the top of people’s minds.

Sadly, viruses affect all plants, animals, and even insects and are a common part of life.

Viruses have been around for millions of years and have undergone constant evolution, even though their exact origin is unknown.

Some viruses cause little harm, whereas others are devastating and have claimed countless lives.

They are here to stay, for better or worse whether we as humans like it or not.

Below are ten oldest known viruses In the world:

Zea mays Chrysovirus 1 (ZMCV1)

Age: 1,000 years old
Group: Double-stranded RNA Virus
Infects: Plants and Fungi

The oldest plant virus was found in 2018 by researchers looking at ancient corn remains at Antelope House, an ancient Puebloan ruin.

Researchers determined the age of the ancient corn cobs be around 1,000 years old using carbon 14 dating methods.

Three nearly complete genomes of a previously undiscovered virus belonging to the family Chrysoviridae, which affects fungi and plants, were isolated by researchers. Zea mays Chrysovirus 1 is the name given to the new virus (ZMCV1).

Zea mays Chrysovirus 1 is the first-ever Chyrosvirus described from maize (corn).


9. Rabies

Age: 1,500 years old
Group: Negative-strand RNA Virus
Infects: Humans and other Mammals

In humans and other mammals, rabies is a fatal viral illness that causes inflammation of the brain.

The lyssavirus that causes rabies (previously known as the rabies virus) typically spreads the disease through animal saliva.

In the world, dog bites are the most frequent cause of rabies, but in the Americas, bat bites are more frequently to blame.

All currently recognized rabies viruses seem to have changed over the previous 1,500 years.

Several countries, including Australia, Japan, as well as much of Western Europe, do not have rabies among dogs and many Pacific Islands do not have rabies at all.

8. Smallpox

Age: 3,000 to 4,000 years old
Group: DNA Virus
Infects: Humans

3,000-year-old Egyptian mummies provide the earliest reliable evidence of the illness, even though Smallpox has probably existed in humans for longer.

A smallpox-like illness was prevalent in ancient China and India (around 1500 BCE), according to some medical writings (around 1122 BCE).

Smallpox was a disease that plagued mankind for several millennia, with outbreaks sporadically occurring all over the world.

However, by 1980, smallpox had been eradicated from the planet as a result of effective vaccination campaigns. Smallpox cases have not appeared naturally since that time.

While there is no longer any naturally occurring Variola virus, which causes Smallpox, there are two locations where the Variola virus is officially stored and handled under WHO supervision: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, and the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology (VECTOR Institute) in Koltsovo, Russia.


7. Hepatitis B

Age: 7,000 years old
Group: dsDNA (double-stranded DNA Virus)
Infects: Humans and Primates

Humans have been exposed to hepatitis B for at least 7,000 years.

A virus that infected the liver of a young man who lived in what is now central Germany was discovered to have fragmented DNA in 2018.

After sequencing this DNA, the researchers found that it was an old strain of hepatitis B.

The oldest sequenced human virus as of right now is this one.

The Hepatitis B strain discovered in Europe is distinct from the strain found today and appears to have vanished in humans.

While the strain of Hepatitis B that was sequenced is no longer present in humans, it is similar to Hepatitis B viruses that infect modern chimpanzees and gorillas in Africa.

6. Pithovirus Sibericum

Age: c. 30,000 years old
Group: dsDNA (double-stranded DNA Virus)
Infects: Amoebas

A 30,000-year-old virus was reawakened by scientists in France, according to news reports that circulated in 2014.

Fortunately, the virus, known as Pithovirus sibericum, only affects amoebas with a single cell.

The Pithovirus was recovered from the Siberian permafrost and is still viable, meaning it is still able to infect, even thousands of years later.

The oldest virus to emerge from dormancy and continue to be contagious is currently Pithovirus sibericum.

According to scientists, the implications of Pithovirus sibericum remaining infectious could be a warning that other ancient microbes and viruses that affect humans and animals might be lurking in the world’s rapidly melting permafrost.

5. Herpes Simplex Virus 2 (HSV-2)m

Age: c. 1.6 million years old
Group: dsDNA (double-stranded DNA Virus)
Infects: Humans

Researchers tried to determine how and why humans are the only primates with two distinct Herpes Simplex Viruses a few years ago.

Herpes Simplex Virus 1 is the oldest of the herpes simplex viruses, which have been found to exist in humans for millions of years.

A few million years later, or roughly 1.6 million years ago, the Herpes Simplex Virus 2 (HSV-2) appeared.

HSV-2, the virus that causes genital herpes, is thought to have originated from Paranthropus boisei, a heavy-jawed primate known as the "Nutcracker Man" because of its enormous teeth.

HSV-2 may have jumped to the human line as a result of a violent encounter between Paranthropus boisei and Homo erectus, according to one theory (Homo erectus may have killed and eaten Paranthropus boisei).

Herpes Simplex Virus 2 is similar to the herpes virus found in chimpanzees, which suggests that humans must have gotten HSV-2 from an ancestor of modern chimps.

4. Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1)

Age: 6 million years ago
Group: dsDNA (double-stranded DNA Virus)
Infects: Humans

Hominids, or early human ancestors, have harboured the herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) for an incredibly long time.

According to genomic research, HSV-1 dates back to a time before humans and primates split about 6 million years ago.

The virus then spread and travelled with hominids as we transitioned into modern humans, where it eventually took the form of oral herpes.

As a result, two-thirds of the population of humans are infected with at least one Herpes Simplex Virus, making Herpes one of the most enduring human viruses.

About 67% of the world population under the age of 50 has HSV-1 and people are typically infected as children.


3. Bracovirus

Age: 190 million years old
Group: dsDNA (double-stranded DNA Virus)
Infects: Insects (in particular butterflies and moths)

About 190 million years ago, the Nudivirus gave rise to bracoviruses, which have been developing ever since.

The symbiotic relationship this ancient virus has with parasitic wasps is well known.

Although bracoviruses do not affect wasps directly, they do carry the virus' particles and inject them into the larval host along with their eggs.

The larvae of beetles, flies, butterflies, and moths, as well as occasionally aphids, are the main prey of wasps carrying the bracovirus.

Bracoviruses suppress the immune system of the host insect, allowing the parasitoid wasp egg to grow undetected.


2. Baculovirus

Age: about 310 million years old
Group: dsDNA (double-stranded DNA Virus)
Infects: Insects and Marine Arthropods

Nudiviruses and Baculoviruses both have a 310 million-year-old common ancestor.

About 178 million years ago, the Nudivrius lineage split off first, and Baculoviruses started to evolve independently.

Baculoviruses influence insects and other arthropods, similar to Nudiviruses. Baculoviruses are most frequently found in the larval stages of moths, although they can also be found in mosquitoes, shrimps, and sawflies.

Baculoviruses have been studied by humans for a long time, and this research has led to useful applications.

Baculoviruses, for instance, have been applied to crop fields as biopesticides.

Humans first discovered Baculovirsues about 5,000 years ago during the height of the silk industry in China.

There are reports of silkworms dying from a “wilting disease,” which turned out to be Baculoviruses.

1. Nudivirus

Age: about 310 million years old
Group: dsDNA (double-stranded DNA Virus)
Infects: Insects and Marine Arthropods

Nudiviruses, which primarily affect insects and marine arthropods, date back to about 310 million years ago, making them the oldest known virus in the world.

Nudiviruses and Baculoviruses both originated from a common ancestor, but Nudiviruses are older than Baculoviruses, having diverged around 222 million years ago.

Through feeding and/or mating, nudiviruses can spread. Infections can kill insect larvae and reduce the number of offspring that adult hosts produce.

The word “Nudivirus” comes from the Latin nudus, which means naked and virus, poison.

It was given this name because Nudiviruses weren’t thought to be occluded, but occluded nudiviruses such as Tipula oleracea have since been identified.

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