According to Scientist, there is a new virus in the coastal waters off Oahu, Hawaii that has characteristics that are very unusual.
The virus, named TetV-1, was found by a team from Daniel K. Inouye Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa.
The discovery was published in Virology and details how the virus is so big that it rivals bacteria in size, putting in the category of “giant viruses.
In statement, co-author Grieg Steward said, “Most viruses are so tiny that we need an electron microscope to see them. “But these giants rival bacteria in size, and their genomes often code for functions we have never seen in viruses before.”
The team of researchers sequenced the genome of the virus and found that it had a number of genes picked up from Tetraselmis which included two genes related to the process of fermentation, which is how microorganisms get energy from sugar.
It’s not quite clear why the virus has these genes, but it may be that the algae turns the water from clear blue to green. The fermentation genes may therefore allow TetV to thrive in these low oxygen conditions, with it finding a home inside algae.
Researching viruses like this is important, as they can have a dramatic effect on the food source of animals. They can spread through populations of phytoplankton, causing their cells to disintegrate and decompose. Tetraselmis itself is a food source, and also a source of starch for the biofuel industry.
“That sounds bad,” said Steward, “but viruses actually help maintain balance in the marine ecosystem. Viruses spread more efficiently through highly concentrated populations, so if one type of phytoplankton grows faster than the others and starts to dominate, it can get knocked down to lower levels by a viral infection, giving the other species a chance to thrive.”
The next step for the team is to carry out field and laboratory experiments to see if their theory about the virus genes is correct.