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Did giant viruses grow from small ones?


Giant viruses are an interesting crew. They behave in some ways like life forms but technically they are not thought, in many quarters, to be life forms.

At The Scientist, Kamal Naha argues that they originated as small viruses:

Evolutionary biologists have grappled over two possible origins of giant viruses. One possibility is that they were once cellular organisms that shrunk physically and genetically over time. But most virologists now suspect giant viruses grew out of much smaller ones—though the evidence supporting either hypothesis is scant…

Bisio says the cluster of essential genes may echo a smaller “core genome” of an ancient virus. This genome could have become elongated through multiple rounds of gene duplication that were biased in one direction to produce an additional set of spare nonessential genes. This could explain how modern-day giant viruses came to possess thousands of genes. “Our data indicate that complex viruses arose from smaller and simpler ones,” Bisio tells The Scientist in an email — noting that it will take further research to determine whether that’s true of all giant viruses or just Pandoravirus. Other studies found that some genes in giant viruses were usurped from their amoeba hosts, suggesting gene exchange is another way giant viruses increased in size.

Thirty years ago, no one knew they existed.

There is a good chance that traditional Darwin think is not going to unravel the mystery.


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