Researchers at Virginia Tech reported that they discovered genes for cellular metabolic cycles in the genomes of giant viruses. The strangeness of this phenomenon is that viruses do not have a metabolism. These giant viruses destroy all knowledge about viruses that are in science. Viruses are considered the smallest inhabitants of the microbiome, they consist of several DNA and RNA genes.
They are placed under a shell, which can only be seen with an electron microscope. Giant viruses are at least ten times their size. The first giant virus was accidentally discovered in 1992. But the researchers considered that this species could not belong to bacteria and did not include it in the bacteria species. But later, giant viruses were classified as a separate species.
Frank Aylward, assistant professor of biological sciences at the College of Sciences, who led the study, believes that routine research on viral diversity is not always carried out in detail, which does not allow viruses and bacteria to be separated from other larger organisms. But scientists concluded that these non-standard viruses, which are called giant viruses, were everywhere.
Their main habitat is water. They very easily infect unicellular organisms such as algae and protozoa. The metabolism of these organisms has a huge impact on the state of the planet’s water resources and the carbon cycle. In 2018, for the first time in the laboratory, the state of a giant virus was investigated. Scientists used a publicly available metagenome database.
With their help, the researchers calculated those genomes that could belong to giant viruses. They collected data from the genomes of 501 giant viruses, all viruses live in the aquatic environment. These genomes contain standard functions that control the creation of the protective envelope of the virus and allow it to infect and kill its host.
Researchers did not expect to meet so many metabolic genes. Indeed, metabolism is a distinctive black totality of the processes of cell life. But these giant viruses may have genes associated with several key metabolic pathways in living cells.