Sunday, 21 May 2017

Giant viruses found in Austrian sewage

Giant viruses are characterized by disproportionately large genomes and virions that house the viruses' genetic material. They can encode several genes potentially involved in protein biosynthesis, a unique feature which has led to diverging hypotheses about the origins of these viruses. But after discovering a novel group of giant viruses with a more complete set of translation machinery genes than any other virus known to date, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI), a DOE Office of Science User Facility, believe that this group (dubbed "Klosneuviruses") significantly increases our understanding of viral evolution. Thus the Klosneuviruses contradict the theory that viruses make up a distinct domain of life.
The predicted hosts for the Klosneuviruses are protists (single-celled eukaryotic (nucleus-containing) microorganisms) and while their direct impacts on protists are not yet worked out, these giant viruses are thought to have a large impact on these protists that help regulate the planet's biogeochemical cycles.

Scientists have been fascinated by giant viruses since 2003, when a group of French biologists led by Didier Raoult discovered the Mimiviruses. Since then, a handful of other giant virus groups have been found. The unique ability among them to encode proteins involved in translation (typically DNA to RNA to protein) piqued researchers' interests as to the origin of giant viruses. Since then, two evolutionary hypotheses have emerged. One posits that giant viruses evolved from an ancient cell, perhaps one from an extinct fourth domain of cellular life. Another -- a scenario championed by Koonin -- presents the idea that giant viruses arose from smaller viruses.

The discovery of Klosneuvirus supports the latter idea, according to Tanja Woyke, DOE JGI Microbial Genomics Program lead and senior author of the paper. "In this scenario, a smaller virus infected different eukaryote hosts and picked up genes encoding translational machinery components from independent sources over long periods of time through piecemeal acquisition," she said.

For further details see:

Frederik Schulz, Natalya Yutin, Natalia N. Ivanova, Davi R. Ortega, Tae Kwon Lee, Julia Vierheilig, Holger Daims, Matthias Horn, Michael Wagner, Grant J. Jensen, Nikos C. Kyrpides, Eugene V. Koonin, Tanja Woyke. Giant viruses with an expanded complement of translation system components. Science, 2017; 356 (6333): 82 DOI: 10.1126/science.aal4657

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle