Some giant viruses found to have an immune system similar to bacteria

March 2, 2016 by Bob Yirka, report
Pithovirus particle in an infected Acanthamoeba castellanii cell.

A team of scientists affiliated with several research facilities in France has conducted a study on giant viruses known as mimiviruses and has found that at least some of them have an immune system that is similar in some ways to CRISPR in bacteria. In their paper published in the journal Nature, the team describes the genetic study they undertook of multiple strains of mimiviruses looking to understand why some of them appeared to have immunity to a particular kind of virophage infection while others did not.

Scientists have only known about the existence of mimiviruses and other for not much more than a decade, thus research surrounding them is still relatively new. One thing that has been learned is that some of these mammoth sized viruses can be infected by other smaller viruses, known as virophages. Then, just two years ago, it was found that some mimiviruses have immunity against some virophages, and others do not. In this new effort, the researchers believe they have uncovered the reason why that is and the process by which that immunity works.

Suspecting that the mimiviruses were operating in a fashion similar to the way that bacteria ward off , via CRISPR (where snippets of DNA are stolen from invading for use in identifying them the next time around) the researchers looked at the genomes of 60 strains of mimiviruses, searching for bits of DNA from a virophage known as Zamilon. In so doing, they found their suspicions confirmed, the strains of mimiviruses that were immune to Zamilon all had bits of the virophage residing in their own, which allowed the mimiviruses to recognize the infecting virus and to immediately put up a fight when it was detected. The researchers also found that the mimiviruses they studied had enzymes in them that were able to corrupt DNA that was not its own, which is similar to how CRISPER works in bacteria. The group has dubbed this new type of immune system in mimiviruses, MIMIVIRE.

The findings by the team not only help to better understand mimiviruses, which have been found to infect amoebas, but also fuels the debate regarding whether they should be categorized as an entirely new form of life, or whether they should be classified as being alive at all.

Explore further: Mimivirus isolated, genome amputated

More information: Anthony Levasseur et al. MIMIVIRE is a defence system in mimivirus that confers resistance to virophage, Nature (2016). DOI: 10.1038/nature17146

Related Stories

Mimivirus isolated, genome amputated

June 13, 2011

In the absence of competition with other microorganisms, Mimivirus, the largest known DNA virus, loses 17% of its genome. This has recently been demonstrated by a French-American collaboration including researchers from CNRS, ...

How nature punches back at giant viruses

September 4, 2015

(—What have viruses ever done for humans? The question is debatable, but given the prevalence of highly contagious, and sometimes life-threatening illnesses caused by viruses, it's fair to say that most people ...

Study adds to evidence that viruses are alive

September 25, 2015

A new analysis supports the hypothesis that viruses are living entities that share a long evolutionary history with cells, researchers report. The study offers the first reliable method for tracing viral evolution back to ...

Microbiologists advance CRISPR research

February 22, 2016

The research of two Montana State University microbiologists into how bacteria fend off attacks from viruses is included in a new paper published in the scientific journal Nature.

Recommended for you

How human brains became so big

May 23, 2018

The human brain is disproportionately large. And while abundant grey matter confers certain intellectual advantages, sustaining a big brain is costly—consuming a fifth of energy in the human body.

Rehabilitating lactate: From poison to cure

May 23, 2018

George Brooks has been trying to reshape thinking about lactate—in the lab, the clinic and on the training field—for more than 40 years, and finally, it seems, people are listening. Lactate, it's becoming clear, is not ...

How a cell knows when to divide

May 23, 2018

How does a cell know when to divide? We know that hundreds of genes contribute to a wave of activity linked to cell division, but to generate that wave new research shows that cells must first grow large enough to produce ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (3) Mar 02, 2016
What is the definition of "life" again?

Perhaps we need to get the definition very clear and be ready to change it. We have viruses and prions that appear to replicate but the consensus currently is that they are not actually alive. Evolution is a funny thing because it works on things that are not alive just as easily as it works on living things.

Here we can include languages, ideas, skills, terms and cuss words even evolve. We have living languages and dead languages we have fossil ideas and languages in the form of writing.

... I wonder just how broad we should make the definition of "living".
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Mar 02, 2016
The Universe...:-)

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.