Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Giant virus resurrected from 30,000-year-old ice

Larger than some bacteria, this virus — seen in a cross-section under a transmission electron microscope — was still able to infect amoebae despite having spent 30 millennia in a frozen state.

In what seems like a plot straight out of a low-budget science-fiction film, scientists have revived a giant virus that was buried in Siberian ice for 30,000 years — and it is still infectious. Its targets, fortunately, are amoebae, but the researchers suggest that as Earth's ice melts, this could trigger the return of other ancient viruses, with potential risks for human health.
 “This guy is 150 times less compacted than any bacteriophage. We don’t understand anything anymore!”
The newly thawed virus is the biggest one ever found. At 1.5 micrometres long, it is comparable in size to a small bacterium. Evolutionary biologists Jean-Michel Claverie and Chantal Abergel, the husband-and-wife team at Aix-Marseille University in France who led the work, named it Pithovirus sibericum, inspired by the Greek word 'pithos' for the large container used by the ancient Greeks to store wine and food. “We’re French, so we had to put wine in the story,” says Claverie. The results are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1.

Claverie and Abergel have helped to discover other so-called giant viruses — including the first, called Mimivirus, in 20032, and two others, known as Pandoraviruses, last year3 (see 'Giant viruses open Pandora's box'). “Once again, this group has opened our eyes to the enormous diversity that exists in giant viruses,” says Curtis Suttle, a virologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, who was not involved in the work.

For the rest of the story: http://www.nature.com/news/giant-virus-resurrected-from-30-000-year-old-ice-1.14801?WT.mc_id=FBK_NatureNews

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