Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Planet Earth

#33: The First Known Case of Virus-Attacks-Virus

Sputnik virus seems to have influenced evolution of the Mamavirus.

By Josie GlausiuszDecember 16, 2008 6:00 AM

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Viruses, generally the most minuscule of parasites, apparently have to contend with vermin of their own. In August, infectious diseases physician Didier Raoult of the Université de la Méditerranée in Marseille, France, reported that he had discovered a tiny virus infecting another, a giant virus called Mamavirus. This unexpected type of attack suggests for the first time that one virus may influence the evolution of other viruses.

Raoult and his colleagues found Mamavirus in water taken from a cooling tower in Paris. The giant virus, a strain of the previously identified and slightly smaller Mimivirus, was found through microscopy to be infected by a 50-nanometer-wide virus. They named it Sputnik, after the first satellite to orbit Earth.

When the scientists cultured Mamavirus and Sputnik with an amoeba, they found that Sputnik forces Mamavirus to produce not just copies of Sputnik but fewer, and deformed, versions of itself. And when they sequenced Sputnik’s genome, they found its small ring of DNA contained genes from three different viral families, including Mamavirus.

The finding suggests that Sputnik infects more than one group of viruses and can shuttle genetic material from one giant virus to another. “This is a completely new way of transmitting genes,” Raoult says, and it could be driving evolution of new species in as-yet-unknown ways.

The discovery may also have practical applications. “We don’t have a good way to treat something like smallpox,” Raoult explains. “If it’s true that this virus is infecting other viruses, and if you are able to make it pathogenic for smallpox viruses—why not?”

2 Free Articles Left

Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 70%

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In