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Wednesday 26th October 2016

New giant virus discovered

15th December 2009

Researchers in France have discovered a virus that is unlike any other previously known to science.


The virus, which has been dubbed Marseillevirus, can be found inside amoebas, single-cell organisms that often live as parasites in larger animals.

It belongs to an emerging class of viruses known as "giant viruses" because their physical structure makes them much larger than classic viruses.

Unlike classic viruses, giant viruses can be viewed with a conventional light microscope.

Didier Raoult of Aix-Marseille 2 University in France said that Marseillevirus was a completely new viral form.

He said amoebas were acting as a sort of cradle of creation for new viruses and bacteria.

The genome of Marseillevirus includes genetic material from several different species, as well as from other giant viruses and bacteria that exist inside amoebas.

Not much is known about giant viruses.

When mimivirus, the first giant virus, was discovered in 1993, people began to question the idea that viruses are non-living things, because of its complexity and size.

Last year, Raoult's team found that some viruses even infect other viruses in order to replicate themselves.

Marseillevirus is the fifth biggest virus ever sequenced, with 368,000 base pairs to its genome.

Its diameter is about 250 nanometres, which makes it much smaller than mimivirus and bigger than most other viruses.

Raoult said that there was a mechanism of permanent creation going on in amoebas that produces a new repertoire of viruses.

He said that the same mechanism would predispose giant viruses to becoming pathogens once they specialised in certain organisms.

As scientists learn about the development of viruses, they realise that they do not evolve according to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

Raoult said that the idea of a common viral ancestor did not make any sense.


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