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Scientists piece together extinct poxvirus

Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Researchers have re-created the extinct horsepox virus, which is closely related to smallpox, by cobbling together a patchwork of remaining pieces of DNA. The Canadian team's methods haven't been published but were reported in the news section of the journal Science on Thursday. Horsepox is harmless to humans, but scientists say this research means that smallpox may not be as extinct as previously thought.

"No question. If it's possible with horsepox, it's possible with smallpox," virologist Gerd Sutter of Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany, told Science. A World Health Organization report on the research says that recreating viruses this way takes little time, money or skill.

Why it matters: Smallpox plagued humans for thousands of years, before it was eradicated in 1977. The disease was horrific: before the smallpox vaccination was created, 1 out of 10 children in France and 1 in 7 children in Russia would die from the virus.