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Is the World's Largest Virus a Genetic Time Capsule? 111

Posted by samzenpus
from the virus-zero dept.
gbrumfiel writes "Researchers in France have discovered the world's largest virus and given it a terrifying name: Pandoravirus. NPR reports it doesn't pose a threat to people, but its genetic code could hint at an unusual origin. The team believes that the virus may carry the genes from a long-dead branch of the tree of life, one that possibly even started on Mars or somewhere else. Other scientists are skeptical, but everyone agrees that the new giant virus is pretty cool."
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Is the World's Largest Virus a Genetic Time Capsule?

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  • Just a little (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The team believes that the virus may carry the genes from a long-dead branch of the tree of life, one that possibly even started on Mars or somewhere else.

    Other scientists are skeptical

    No shit? That's one heck of an extraordinary claim right there. It'd be very fascinating if true, but that's going to need some strong evidence backing it. Either way, a virus of its size is still quite interesting.

    • Re:Just a little (Score:5, Informative)

      by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Friday July 19, 2013 @01:06AM (#44324653) Homepage Journal

      This kind of questioning showed up when the Mimivirus, the first (?) giant amoeba virus appeared, including the bit about degenerating into a virus as a survival strategy. It turned out that all of its genes came directly from the amoebae it was infecting; it's basically just really bad at reproducing. While it would be really neat to discover the remnants of a lost superphylum or kingdom, viruses mutate much too quickly for any informative signal to be preserved.

      The reality is that we've only sequenced a tiny fraction of the Earth's biodiversity. There's a lot of stuff out there that's just more of the same, especially at the microbe level. The farther back you go, the lower the likelihood of finding a surviving isolate, which is why isolated biomes like Lake Vostok and the drilling site in Northern Ontario are so important.

    • Re:Just a little (Score:4, Insightful)

      by icebike (68054) on Friday July 19, 2013 @01:11AM (#44324665)

      The team believes that the virus may carry the genes from a long-dead branch of the tree of life, one that possibly even started on Mars or somewhere else.

      Other scientists are skeptical

      No shit? That's one heck of an extraordinary claim right there. It'd be very fascinating if true, but that's going to need some strong evidence backing it. Either way, a virus of its size is still quite interesting.

      Dna in the virus. Composed of the same nucleotides found in all life on earth.
      So either all life on earth originated on mars (or somewhere), or these viruses originated on earth.

      One case makes them simply interesting, the other makes for much better headlines and vastly more grant money.

      • Competing theories (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Camael (1048726) on Friday July 19, 2013 @03:27AM (#44325003)

        From TFA. The discoverers:-

        "We believe that those new Pandoraviruses have emerged from a new ancestral cellular type that no longer exists," he says. That life could have even come from another planet, like Mars. "At this point we cannot actually disprove or disregard this type of extreme scenario," he says.

        The naysayers :-

        The virus's size is probably part of its survival strategy. Amoebas and other simple creatures could mistake it for bacteria and try to eat it, opening them up to infection. "The internal environment of the amoeba cell provides a very good playground for acquiring various kinds of genes from different sources," Koonin says. He thinks that the Pandoravirus's unusual genome may be a mishmash of random genetic material it's sucked up from its hosts.

        I cite Occam's Razor -the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Apologies to the discoverers, but I think its far too early to point to any "ancestral cellular type that no longer exists".

      • by tomofumi (831434)
        As I know, there is no DNA inside virus, just RNA fragments. That's why they need to find a host (a cell) to infect and take over their control center. (correct me if i'm wrong)
        • Re: Just a little (Score:1, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Most virus species carry only RNA, but not all of them. The type knowns as retroviruses carry DNA, and actually gene manipulate their host, making them really tough to get rid of. Examples are HIV and Hepatitis.

          • by jbengt (874751)
            Most viruses do carry RNA. But I believe retroviruses carry RNA also, and use reverse transcriptase to make DNA from the RNA, and then use regular transcription to make RNA for the virus. Retroviruses are just about impossible to get rid of if they integrate the DNA they make into the host genome along the way. According to Wikipedia, DNA viruses that first make RNA in the cell and then use reverse transcriptase to make DNA for the virus are called pararetroviruses.
          • by the gnat (153162)

            Most virus species carry only RNA, but not all of them. The type knowns as retroviruses carry DNA, and actually gene manipulate their host, making them really tough to get rid of. Examples are HIV and Hepatitis.

            I think your terminology is confused. Retroviruses carry RNA, which is then converted into DNA in the cell using the viral reverse transcriptase (typically integrating into the host genome), then back to RNA for protein translation. DNA viruses produce RNA using their own RNA polymerases, but their

        • Re:Just a little (Score:4, Informative)

          by RDW (41497) on Friday July 19, 2013 @10:04AM (#44327037)

          It's a bit more complicated than that:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baltimore_classification [wikipedia.org]

      • Re:Just a little (Score:4, Insightful)

        by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Friday July 19, 2013 @09:14AM (#44326561) Homepage

        Reading the article, I'm not sure if the scientist made the claim:

        That life could have even come from another planet, like Mars. "At this point we cannot actually disprove or disregard this type of extreme scenario," he says.

        So it seems like maybe the reporter posits that it came from Mars, and the scientist said, "Well we can't disprove that right now."

    • Re:Just a little (Score:4, Interesting)

      by jamesh (87723) on Friday July 19, 2013 @07:13AM (#44325897)

      The team believes that the virus may carry the genes from a long-dead branch of the tree of life, one that possibly even started on Mars or somewhere else.

      Other scientists are skeptical

      No shit? That's one heck of an extraordinary claim right there. It'd be very fascinating if true, but that's going to need some strong evidence backing it. Either way, a virus of its size is still quite interesting.

      Easy to prove. Just compare the genetic material in the virus to all the other life we've found on Mars (or somewhere else).

  • Is it as large as this one? [nocookie.net]

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Alright everyoby, time to play a game of "Fictional or Australian?"

    • I always thought those looked more like diatoms [berkeley.edu], though I guess that doesn't sell as well.
      • Safe to say it was one of the dumbest Star Trek premises ever.

        • I would agree with you if there weren't so many episodes that were worse—Threshold (VOY), Genesis (TNG), Twilight (ENT), Spock's Brain (TOS), The Omega Glory (TOS)... I'd also like to call special attention to Journey's End (TNG) for being the worst Wesley episode imaginable, but technically that's not a premise issue.
          • by Anonymous Coward

            Who cares about Journey's End? It helped establish the Cardassians as the menace for DS9, which is by far the best trek. /flameon!

  • I think I've seen this show [youtube.com], or was it a different one? [youtube.com] Not sure.

  • I agree with this judgment. It's precise, explicit. Scientific. I find that the LHC and the ISS are pretty cool stuff :-)
  • by Kwyj1b0 (2757125) on Friday July 19, 2013 @01:20AM (#44324683)

    It should have been in the summary, but the virus is about a micrometer in length. Which is cool, and huge. Just imagine - a a group of a few thousand, and it becomes visible to the naked eye.

  • by mirix (1649853) on Friday July 19, 2013 @01:30AM (#44324709)

    "Researchers in France have discovered a the worlds largest virus and given it a terrifying name: Pandoravirus.

    We can't even have the first sentence of a submission checked now?

    • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Friday July 19, 2013 @02:42AM (#44324863) Homepage
      Well, you didn't spot the lack of an apostrophe in "worlds." Maybe editing is tougher than it looks ;)
      • by steelfood (895457)

        Maybe editing is tougher than it looks ;)

        Which is why there are job titles named, appropriately, editors.

    • "Researchers in France have discovered a the worlds largest virus and given it a terrifying name: Pandoravirus.

      We can't even have the first sentence of a submission checked now?

      Maybe there's more than one "the worlds largest virus".

    • by bytesex (112972)

      The editor's computer was infected by the world's largest computervirus.

  • Hoip! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CuteSteveJobs (1343851) on Friday July 19, 2013 @01:36AM (#44324721)
    Another example of how great marketing helps get your research funded. The reason this is being widely reported is because they chose a cool name. Pandoravirus. But how does Pandora's box come into this? When it comes to viruses bigger is lamer so size doesn't matter. It is not a threat to people nor anyone else except amoebas. The origins speculation is interesting, but this whole thing is being hyped up by the researchers. And possibly by the amoebas.
    • by cnettel (836611)
      RTFA, they believe the size makes it look like juicy food.
      • by Rich0 (548339)

        RTFA, they believe the size makes it look like juicy food.

        Kind of hard to RTFA when it is behind a paywall...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      If Koonin's hypothesis is correct, it's a giant katamari that collects genes from the hosts it passes through. Pandora is a good name for that. Pan-dora was given "all the gifts" from all the gods, she just happened to open the wrong cornu copiae.

    • Not to worry. Megavirus had to be outdone by Pandoravirus. The next genus of virus will have to outdo the last, and so on.

      I forsee the following names for future virus discoveries, in this order:

      Megavirus
      Pandoravirus
      -Epicvirus
      -Gigantivirus
      -Galactavirus (who later becomes a galaxy spanning super villian virus and renames himself Galactavus, or Galactus)
      -Universalvirus
      -Gigantovirus
      -OMGWTFITSHUGEvirus
      -Omegavirus
      And the final genus to be discovered will be named "Tiddlywinks." Yep.

    • by the gnat (153162)

      Another example of how great marketing helps get your research funded. The reason this is being widely reported is because they chose a cool name.

      Everyone in the academic sciences loves popular media exposure, but it usually doesn't matter for funding the individual research projects. The fact is, these viruses are an intrinsically important enough discovery that the research article would have been worthy of Science magazine regardless of the name they chose, and that's what they're going to be bragging a

  • by Empiric (675968) on Friday July 19, 2013 @01:42AM (#44324729) Homepage
    ... one that possibly even started on Mars or somewhere else.

    Science.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 19, 2013 @01:44AM (#44324737)
    I think if you wanted to really terrify people, you'd name it Pandora's Pox.
  • by cervesaebraciator (2352888) on Friday July 19, 2013 @02:16AM (#44324819)
    Pandora is a Greek compound meaning all gifts (pan, as in pantheon--all the gods + dora, pl., as in Theodore--a gift of God). Just an FYI. I'd give the actual Greek but, alas, unicode support on /. does not have the greatest reputation. I see the term thrown about in literature sometimes, and I the think intent can be missed because folks only know the story from Hesiod. I suspect this is what Cameron had in mind when he thus christened the planetary home of his Lakota, er, Powhatan's Algonquin, ah... no, Na'vi, yeah that's what he called the sympathetic characters in his highly original film.
    • by gl4ss (559668)

      it's greek gods. they're all sons of bitches and pranksters. they torture whistleblowers and play with human destinies for shits'n'giggles, so gifts from them...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The summary says,

    "NPR reports it doesn't pose a threat to people"

    but the article doesn't say that.

    The article says,

    ... doesn't pose a major threat to human health. "This is not going to cause any kind of widespread and acute illness or epidemic or anything, ..."

    • by cnettel (836611)
      The article, as in scientific paper, is quite clear on this. There is no signs that anything close to vertebrates are infectable.
  • by shikaisi (1816846) on Friday July 19, 2013 @04:59AM (#44325387)
    The world's largest virus was discovered a long time ago. It's called Windows 8.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah but it's from the Vista branch of DNA, that branch is not yet extinct!

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I found an old Windows ME box in Lake Vostok.

  • "'We believe that those new Pandoraviruses have emerged from a new ancestral cellular type that no longer exists,' he says. That life could have even come from another planet, like Mars. 'At this point we cannot actually disprove or disregard this type of extreme scenario,' he says."

    i.e. Obama is a lizard person and Jesus was a free market capitalist!... At this point I cannot actually disprove or disregard this type of extreme scenario.

    His first statement is just right but where does he get some Mars-born

  • Most likely this virus has come from the oceans' depths.

    • by jamesh (87723)

      Most likely this virus has come from the oceans' depths...

      ... of mars.

      • Uh, no, *not* on Mars. It has nothing to do with Mars. The paper itself makes no mention to such unfounded and outlandish claims.

  • In the linked npr article it is suspected that amoebas could mistake this virus for a bacteria because of its size and try to eat it. This way the virus would infect the amoeba.
    If the size developed only for this most of the genetic material in it could be totally random and meaningless.
    • by Shavano (2541114)

      In the linked npr article it is suspected that amoebas could mistake this virus for a bacteria because of its size and try to eat it. This way the virus would infect the amoeba. If the size developed only for this most of the genetic material in it could be totally random and meaningless.

      In that case, it most likely would be multiple copies of DNA sequences already in the virus. Or multiple copies of a normal sized genome in an extra-large case.

  • Allow me to summarize:

    Apparently, scientists understand marketing.
    Viruses are not as small as we once thought they were.

    Bonus fun fact: amoebas are dumb.

  • Probably engineered by the Tnuctipun.

  • by Shavano (2541114) on Friday July 19, 2013 @09:26AM (#44326671)

    Summary is misleading. It's not just one species of virus. The article abstract says they found TWO species of these Pandoraviruses. The "possibly started on Mars" is just hype. There's exactly zero evidence of that.

    I suspect that in the long term, they'll find abundant evidence that they're related (perhaps not closely) to every other kind of life on Earth. Especially since they are viruses. Viruses can only target particular species of cells and would quickly become extinct in the absense of those species. How could they evolve the ability to infect Earth life on Mars? That makes no sense. If something was going to make it here from another planet and establish itself in our ecosphere, it wouldn't be viruses or any other species that depends on the presence of some particular species already being here.

  • Am I the only one who thinks Slashdot gets into pseudo-religious conspiracy territory when origin of life from mars....stuff .....is printed?
  • by betterprimate (2679747) on Sunday July 21, 2013 @06:32AM (#44341075)

    I was the first one to read this story and point out the real hypothesis.... test it mother fuckers... I dare you.... I am *never* been wrong. You incompetent assholes make careers out my pastimes.
     
    I got down modded twice as redundant because some asshat says exactly the same as me. Fuck off you dumb motherfuckers. No one gave as much insight as I had. You stupid pieces of shit. I'm done dealing with /. Bunch of fucking stupid monkeys in a barrel.

For God's sake, stop researching for a while and begin to think!

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