Zombie bacteria are not germs left behind on the theater seats of horror-movie-loving viewers. They have nothing to do with those undead creatures with jagged teeth who roam dark, open fields in search of hapless victims. However, the term zombie bacteria, does refer to spore-based bacteria that really don’t die, but instead remain dormant until exposed to open land surface. In this case, melting permafrost caused at least in part by climate change and global warming in Siberia is the culprit or carrier of the disease.

Scientists have long feared the melting of permafrost and revival of dormant pathogens.

According to George Stewart, a medical bacteriologist at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, scientists have dreaded the possible re-emergence of diseases long thought dead resulting from the melting of permafrost. Few people ever think about this thick layer of permanently frozen soil found in the northern latitudes of the world that retains carbon in the form of lethal gasses such as carbon dioxide and methane. The melting permafrost can also negatively affect the landscape, causing landslides, erosion, and even the deterioration of plant species.

Stewart believes that there are effective means available to combat the lethal anthrax infection and protect both humans and animals and that this outbreak will be quickly curtailed because public health officials were notified immediately.

In his words: “In places where anthrax is a known threat, cattle get vaccinations. Outbreaks can also be quelled by burning livestock that died of the disease or by burying corpses very deep in the ground so that spores won’t penetrate the surface.”

What exactly is anthrax?

Once again, according to Stewart, “Bacillus anthracis, the bacteria that cause anthrax are capable of surviving in the soil for centuries, so it's no surprise that melting permafrost could resurrect a long-dormant plague.

Anthrax spreads through soil. Grazing animals pick up the bacteria, which quickly start reproducing like mad in the animals' blood… Anthrax wants to kill, and it produces toxins to do so. That's because it demands a dead and decomposing host to spread.

Once oxygen enters the rotting animal, the zombie bacteria transform into spores…which are basically a bacterial cell in a really tough protein shell.”

This epidemic occurred after an unexpected heat-wave in western Siberia.

Western Siberia has not seen an anthrax outbreak since 1941.There is no question that it is connected to the 10-degree rise in normal temperatures along the Yamal tundra. According to the Siberian Times, nine adults and four children were hospitalized. In addition, some 1,500 reindeer also died in the last week alone. It is most likely that the thawing permafrost reanimated the spores that came from a reindeer that died from anthrax some seventy-five years ago and remained in a frozen state until now.

To scientists who understand the many repercussions of a melting permafrost, Zombie bacteria is a lot scarier than the nocturnal ghouls of legend and cinema who just usually need a shave and a change of clothes in between meals.

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