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Pandoraviruses: Amoeba Viruses with Genomes Up to 2.5 Mb Reaching That of Parasitic Eukaryotes

Science  19 Jul 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6143, pp. 281-286
DOI: 10.1126/science.1239181

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Zeus' Revenge

Sediment-dwelling amoebae appear to have an unhappy affinity for huge viruses. Giant icosahedral Mimiviruses with genomes of the order of 1 megabase (Mb) were first identified in Acanthamoeba. Digging into antipodean sediments has once again been fruitful where Philippe et al. (p. 281; see the cover) discovered some enormous viruses in Acanthamoeba, visible by light microscopy and having genomes up to 2.5 Mb. The Pandoraviruses are phagocytosed by target cells and, after fusing with the phagosome membrane, their contents are released into the cytoplasm where they wreak terrible havoc on its nucleus. These viruses are encased into a tegument-like envelope and lack genes for capsid proteins, and there are no genes for protein translation, adenosine triphosphate generation, or binary fission—confirming their classification as viruses.

Abstract

Ten years ago, the discovery of Mimivirus, a virus infecting Acanthamoeba, initiated a reappraisal of the upper limits of the viral world, both in terms of particle size (>0.7 micrometers) and genome complexity (>1000 genes), dimensions typical of parasitic bacteria. The diversity of these giant viruses (the Megaviridae) was assessed by sampling a variety of aquatic environments and their associated sediments worldwide. We report the isolation of two giant viruses, one off the coast of central Chile, the other from a freshwater pond near Melbourne (Australia), without morphological or genomic resemblance to any previously defined virus families. Their micrometer-sized ovoid particles contain DNA genomes of at least 2.5 and 1.9 megabases, respectively. These viruses are the first members of the proposed “Pandoravirus” genus, a term reflecting their lack of similarity with previously described microorganisms and the surprises expected from their future study.

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