Evolution of Giant Viruses

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For many years, the ability to encode proteins was considered peculiar to cellular organisms. However, researchers have found a group of giant viruses known as Klosneuviruses with an expanded protein translation machinery.

The research study, led by Frederik Schulz of the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute, discovered this new feature in Klosneuviruses while examining the genes of a sample of viruses from a wastewater treatment facility in Austria.

Unlike other giant viruses, this group has the ability to encode a wide range of proteins including aminoacyl transfer RNA synthetases with particularities for all 20 amino acids. Despite this ability, the researchers noted that further analysis showed Klosneuviruses did not evolve from a cellular ancestor. Instead, they apparently evolved from smaller viruses and gained their unique ability by taking some of the genes of their hosts.

“Phylogenetic analyses suggest that the genes were acquired in an evolutionary recent time frame, likely from, and as an adaptation to, their hosts.” the research paper states.

This study was published in the journal Science of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).