A team of scientists including a British boffin have discovered evidence of an ancient viral infection which they say is proof of viruses in the time of dinosaurs.
The team of palaeontologists, led by Dr Peter Vrsansky of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, found evidence of the infection dating from 98 million years ago.
The team was made up of scientists from Slovakia, China, Czechia, Germany, Singapore and the UK.
The British scientist who was part of the team has been identified as Edmund Jarzembowski.
The team discovered perfectly-preserved now-extinct predatory cockroaches preserved in Cretaceous Myanmar amber.
One cockroach from the newly-found species, named Stavba babkaeva, displays an undeveloped hindwing and symmetrically deformed curled forewings.
These are symptoms of Deformed Wing Virus infection caused by pathogenic DWV-Iflavirus. The virus still exists today and is known to affect honey bees.
The team ruled out other factors that may have caused the deformations, which can be seen in the photographs and illustration made by Dr Vrsansky’s daughter Lucia. The photos were taken in 2015.
Although the specimens found dated back 98 million years, the virus may be much older.
The oldest ever recorded viral infection was discovered on a Mesozoic dinosaur bone.
Vrsansky told Central European News (CEN): “That one piece of evidence is not convincing on its own. Definitely, this is a prove of viruses in times of dinosaurs, their time was a time with parasites and viruses. (sic)”
Based on his discovery, Vrsansky told CEN that viruses may actually be beneficial to us, “otherwise they will be extinct a long time ago (sic).
“It seems they represent another key player in the evolution causing robustness of its bearers in geological time (sic).
“All organisms bear them, so it seems they help the system of modern organism genomes to be more stable against mistakes and errors.”
He added: “Most of the researchers expected that viruses are old, but here comes the prove with a specific virus ((+)ssRNA Iflavirus) known to cause these symptoms. Thus dino times forests were not only diverse, but also structured in a modern way, although without true flowering trees. (sic)”
Vrsansky adds that it is impossible to ascertain when exactly viruses originated, as we only have amber containing arthropods dating back to the Triassic Period.
The team’s findings were published in May this year in the journal Palaeontographica.
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Story By: William McGee, Sub-Editor: Joseph Golder, Agency: Central European News
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