How should we preserve old viruses?

I was reminded via Twitter by Vincent Racaniello, he of “virology blog” fame, of the problem of preserving stocks of old viruses.

Particularly, in his case, of stocks of a virus that may be eradicated in the wild in a few years, and then – according to him – will need to be destroyed.

Surely we need to at least preserve sequence information of these pathogens before we let them go into oblivion, the way variola and rinderpest viruses have already gone?

So I wrote this to him:

“Great that you have preserved these samples – but a longer-term strategy needs to be adopted, before completely irreplaceable specimens are lost forever, to you and to science in general.

tmv sedimI have the same problem: a colleagues’ samples of plant viruses; beautifully preserved in heat-sealed glass vials, dried over silica gel, dating back in some cases to the early 1960s. For that matter, I have about a thousand glass bottles of liquid plant virus samples at 4degC, dating back in some cases over 40 years – and still viable.

Surely there is a case to be made for preserving some of these viruses? Mining them for sequence in this metagenomic age is not that difficult; preserving their infectivity, however – another matter. Some of my plant viruses are probably bomb-proof; your poliovirus samples, on the other hand – probably slowly deteriorating as we watch.

A wider conversation is needed: I know of other archives, of old poxvirus collections for example, that will be lost forever in a few years. Should we not get an international effort going to log them, sequence them, preserve them?

I think so.

Want to join in?

Yours,

Ed”

If any of you out there have a similar problem, let’s hear from you – and maybe we can do something to at least preserve the genetic information in unique collections.

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