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article imageScientists discover new virus with unrecognizable genes

By Karen Graham     Feb 10, 2020 in Science
Scientists have identified a virus whose genome seems to be almost entirely new to science, populated by unfamiliar genes that have never before been documented in viral research.
The strange virus was found in amoeba taken from Lake Pampulha, an artificial lake in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte. The new virus was given the name "Yaravirus," after Yara – or Iara, a water-queen figure in Brazilian mythology.
While Yaravirus (Yaravirus brasiliensis) may be no supernatural siren, the virus could prove to be just as mysterious as the water nymph of legend, according to Science Alert.
The discovery is "a new lineage of an amoebal virus with a puzzling origin and phylogeny," the research team explains in the open-access journal bioRxiv.
Two of the senior members of the team that discovered the Yaravirus also helped to discover another water-dwelling viral novelty: Tupanvirus, a giant virus found in extreme aquatic habitats, two years ago. Giant viruses are different from regular viruses because of their huge capsids - the protein shells that encapsulate virions - virus particles.
Cells of the Mollivirus sibericum  a virus that was buried deep in the Siberian permafrost for over ...
Cells of the Mollivirus sibericum, a virus that was buried deep in the Siberian permafrost for over 30,000 years, is thought to be the newest representative of what are loosely known as "giant viruses"
Igs/Cnrs/Amu, IGS/CNRS/AFP/File
Discovered in the last century, giant viruses have complex genomes that give them the ability to synthesize proteins and perform things like DNA repair, DNA replication, transcription, and translation. This discovery changed the way scientists looked at viruses because it was always assumed they were relatively inert and lifeless - only capable of infecting their hos
The Yaravirus is not a giant virus
The Yaravirus does not appear to be a giant virus, based on the composition of its small, 80nm-sized particles. The unique thing with this virus is its genome.
"Most of the known viruses of amoeba have been seen to share many features that eventually prompted authors to classify them into common evolutionary groups," the authors write.
"Contrary to what is observed in other isolated viruses of amoeba, Yaravirus is not represented by a large/giant particle and a complex genome, but at the same time carries an important number of previously undescribed genes."
When the scientists sequenced the Yaravirus genome, they discovered over 90 percent of it was formed genes that had never been found before - called orphan genes,
Jônatas Abrahão, a virologist at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, in Brazil, said the results were indicative of just “how much we still need to understand” about viruses, reports the Independent.
Only six genes bore a slight resemblance to known viral genes documented in public scientific databases. "Using standard protocols, our very first genetic analysis was unable to find any recognizable sequences of capsid or other classical viral genes in Yaravirus," the researchers explain.
The research team goes on to say: "Following the current metagenomic protocols for viral detection, Yaravirus would not even be recognized as a viral agent." Needless to say, there is still a lot to learn about Yaravirus. Is it a cousin of the giant viruses, or the first isolated case of an unknown group of amoebal viruses?
More about Yara virus, Amoeba, genome sequencing, 90 percent, unrecognizable
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