Opening Pandora's Box

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Science  07 Mar 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6175, pp. 1058
DOI: 10.1126/science.343.6175.1058-a

The first woman on Earth, Pandora, had a “box,” or rather a jar, that Zeus commanded her to safeguard and never open. Of course she opened it, and thus evil spread around the world. Recently, an extraordinarily distinctive group of giant viruses that parasitize amoebas were described and named Pandoravirus, not because they contain all evil but merely because they are jar-shaped. Le gendre et al. have added to this still-tiny pantheon with another jar-shaped viral particle 1.5 µm long, containing a rather diminutive 600-kb AT-rich genome (as compared to the up to 2.8-Mb genome seen in Pandoraviruses) and a cytoplasmic replication machinery resembling that of the original Megaviridae. The authors named the virus Pithovirus because Pandora's jar was called a “pithos” in ancient Greek. This virus was revived from a Siberian permafrost sample and infects amoebas. Although named for the jar and not its contents, given its origins, this discovery hints that viruses more evil than Pithovirus might be revived as the tundra melts.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 111, 10.1073/pnas.1320670111 (2014).

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