The latest giant virus discovery is Tetraselmis virus 1, which infects green algae. It is unusual because it encodes enzymes involved in fermentation. Green beer, anyone?
If you know anything about me, you know that I’m mad about viruses. Although this madness extends to everything viral, I have a peculiar fondness for giant viruses. A new giant virus has been found that not only looks different from all the others, but has an amazing set of genes.
The discovery of Mimivirus in a French cooling tower amazed virologists and changed our view of the biology and evolution of giant viruses. Since then, many other giant viruses have been identified, and with three exceptions, they all appear to infect species of Acanthamoeba. Now a new member of the Mimivirus family has been discovered that infects the flagellated eukaryote Bodo saltans (pictured: image credit).
No problem not being nice to Dickson in this episode, because he’s absent for a discussion of a new giant virus that replicates in the cytoplasm yet transiently accesses the nucleus to bootstrap infection.
You can find TWiV #440 at microbe.tv/twiv, or listen below.
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Among the multitudes of eukaryotic viruses with DNA genomes, some replicate in the cell nucleus, while others avoid the nuclear bureaucracy and remain in the cytoplasm. But biology is not always so rigid: a new giant virus has been found that replicates in the cytoplasm, where it seems to recruit components of the nuclear transcription machinery (link to paper).
Noumeavirus was isolated from a pond near – where else? – Noumea airport in New Caledonia. The 200 nanometer icosahedral particles infect the amoeba Acanthamoeba castellani and have a double-stranded DNA genome of 376,207 base pairs encoding 452 proteins. Sequence comparisons revealed Noumeavirus to be a new member of the family Marseilleviridae, which includes other previously discovered giant viruses.
Other members of the Marseilleviridae replicate in the cytoplasm of the host cell, so it was assumed that the related Noumeavirus would do the same. However an analysis of the proteins in purified virus particles revealed an absence of components of the transcriptional machinery – which is needed for ths synthesis of mRNA. RNA polymerase, for example, is readily detected in other cytoplasmic viruses such as Mimivirus and poxviruses.
If proteins involved in transcription are not present in the Noumeavirus particle, and the virus does not enter the nucleus, how are viral mRNAs produced? It appears that early in infection, the required proteins are moved from the nucleus to sites of viral replication in the cytoplasm. When nuclear proteins were labled with green fluorescent protein, within one hour after infection they can be seen moving out of the nucleus into the cytoplasm to sites of viral replication. The nuclear integrity remains intact, as host DNA does not leave the organelle. This recruitment of nuclear proteins is transient: after 2-4 hours proteins are no longer leaving the nucleus.
This series of events suggests that nuclear proteins needed to initiate viral mRNA synthesis are recruited from the nucleus to sites of viral replication in the cytoplasm. Once viral mRNAs are made, the viral transcriptional machinery can be assembled and the nuclear proteins are no longer needed. The authors call this ‘remote control of the host nucleus.’
Confirmation of this hypothesis will require the demonstration that nuclear proteins involved in viral mRNA synthesis are recruited to early sites of viral replication in the cytoplasm. It will also be essential to identify the mechanism by which these nuclear proteins are extracted. Perhaps one or more virion proteins, such as an abundant 150 amino acid protein of unknown function, is involved.
Other giant viruses, such as Mimivirus, package the viral transcriptional machinery in the virus particle and are independent of the cell nucleus. At the other extreme are viruses that undergo transcription and DNA synthesis entirely in the nucleus (e.g., herpesviruses). Perhaps Noumeavirus is a relic of an evolutionary transition between the two replication strategies.
The TWiVsters reveal new giant viruses that argue against a fourth domain of life, and discovery of viruses in the oceanic basement.
You can find TWiV #437 at microbe.tv/twiv, or listen below.
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When giant viruses were discovered – with genomes much larger than any previously seen – some suggested that they had descended from a fourth domain of life (the current three are bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes). Part of the reason for such a claim was the finding of homologs of bacterial and eukaryotic genes, including molecules involved in translation. Analysis of new giant viruses encoding even more components of the translation machinery has thrown cold water on the fourth domain hypothesis.
Klosneuvirus, with a 1.57 million base pair DNA genome, was discovered in a wastewater treatment plant in Austria, and three related viruses – Indivirus, Hokovirus, and Catovirus – were found in environmental samples. Sequence analyses suggests that these viruses should be classified in a subfamily of the Mimiviridae.
The Klosneuviruses encode far more components of the translational machinery than do mimiviruses – 25 tRNAs, 19 aminoacyl tRNA synthetases, 11 initiation and elongation proteins, a chain release factor, and tRNA modifying enzymes.
Phylogenomic analyses demonstrate that the aminoacyl tRNA synthetase and translation factor genes are likely derived from protists. This finding is not compatible with the hypothesis that these viruses are derived from a fourth domain of life. It is more likely that smaller ancestors of giant viruses acquired these genes from known eukaryotes.
Why these components of the translational system have been maintained in these giant virus genomes is an excellent question. They might confer some advantage to the viruses, for example when host translation is shut off as a viral defense. Having components of the translational apparatus might allow viral protein synthesis to proceed.
Note that genes encoding ribosomal RNAs or proteins have not been found in any virus. In fact no virus encodes a complete protein synthesis machinery. Maybe they have yet to be discovered? Or perhaps these energetically costly activities are best left to the cell?
The TWiVrific gang reveal how integration of a virophage into the nuclear genome of a marine protozoan enhances host survival after infection with a giant virus.
You can find TWiV #419 at microbe.tv/twiv, or listen below.
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