'David and Goliath' viruses shed light on the origin of jumping genes

Mar 03, 2011

University of British Columbia researchers have identified a small virus that attacks another virus more than 100 times its own size, rescuing the infected zooplankton from certain death. The discovery provides clues to the evolutionary origin of some jumping genes found in other organisms.

The study, by UBC marine microbiologist Curtis Suttle and PhD student Matthias Fischer, is published online today in . It describes the marine virus Mavirus and its interaction with marine zooplankton Cafeteria roenbergenesis and CroV, the world's largest marine virus.

"It's a microbial version of the David and Goliah story where, after infecting Cafeteria roenbergeneis, Mavirus protects it against infection by CroV, while ensuring its own survival," says Suttle.

Viruses rely on host cells to replicate; in the case of Mavirus, its host is another virus, making it only the second known virophage. It needs CroV to replicate, and in the process suppresses the propagation of CroV.

"What makes this interaction significant to is that the closest genetic relatives to Mavirus are mobile genetic elements found in single-celled and higher organisms," says Suttle. "This implies that over evolutionary time, organisms have co-opted the DNA from ancient relatives of Mavirus into their own genomes, presumably so that they could acquire immunity against giant viruses like CroV.

Transposons, or , are bits of DNA that can move or "transpose" themselves to new positions within an organism's . Researchers have suspected that a subset of transposons – called Maverick transposons – have a viral origin because of the nature of their DNA sequences.

Suttle and Fischer's latest work on Mavirus provides the first concrete evidence of this connection.

"Because they've sequestered the virophage DNA into their own genomes, organisms probably don't need to rely on being infected by a second virus to protect themselves," says Suttle.

Suttle and Fischer previously identified CroV as the world's largest marine , with a complex genome that has made it remarkably independent of its host cells.

Explore further: Japan's 'sacred' rice farms rotting from inside

Related Stories

Giant virus found in marine predatory plankton

Nov 02, 2010

Researchers have identified a marine giant virus that infects Cafeteria roenbergensis, a widespread planktonic predator that occupies a key position in marine food webs, according to a study.

Unexpected viral 'fossils' found in vertebrate genomes

Jul 29, 2010

Over millions of years, retroviruses, which insert their genetic material into the host genome as part of their replication, have left behind bits of their genetic material in vertebrate genomes. In a recent study, published ...

Viruses evolve to play by host rules

Mar 03, 2008

Biologists at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University have examined the complete genomes of viruses that infect the bacteria E. coli, P. aeruginosa and L. lactis and have found that many of these viral genomes ...

Recommended for you

Studies steadily advance cellulosic ethanol prospects

47 minutes ago

At the Agricultural Research Service's Bioenergy Research Unit in Peoria, Illinois, field work and bench investigations keep ARS scientists on the scientific front lines of converting biomass into cellulosic ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Nik_2213
not rated yet Mar 03, 2011
Well, this seems to resolve the arguments about whether viruses are alive-- Yup, they're stripped-down, utterly parasitical, but alive...
Now, let's see how this does it, so we can block some of the monsters that outwit vaccines...
ptiderman
1 / 5 (1) Mar 10, 2011
Hasn't evolution been proven wrong?