Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Pandoraviruses: Hints at 'Fourth Domain' of Life

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Pandoraviruses – Hints at 'Fourth Domain' of Life

Virus Genome Finding Points To New Branch In Tree Of Life

By Ed Yong
The Huffington Post

      The organism was initially called NLF, for “new life form”. Jean-Michel Claverie and Chantal Abergel, evolutionary biologists at Aix-Marseille University in France, found it in a water sample collected off the coast of Chile, where it seemed to be infecting and killing amoebae. Under a microscope, it appeared as a large, dark spot, about the size of a small bacterial cell.

Later, after the researchers discovered a similar organism in a pond in Australia, they realized that both are viruses — the largest yet found. Each is around 1 micrometre long and 0.5 micrometres across, and their respective genomes top out at 1.9 million and 2.5 million bases — making the viruses larger than many bacteria and even some eukaryotic cells.

But these viruses, described today in Science, are more than mere record-breakers — they also hint at unknown parts of the tree of life. Just 7% of their genes match those in existing databases.

“What the hell is going on with the other genes?” asks Claverie. “This opens a Pandora’s box. What kinds of discoveries are going to come from studying the contents?” The researchers call these giants Pandoraviruses. . . .

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