They existed 3.5 billion years before humans evolved on Earth. They’re neither dead nor alive. Their genetic material is embedded in our own DNA, constituting close to 10% of the human genome. They can attack most forms of life on our planet, from bacteria to plants to animals. And yet, if it wasn’t for them, humans might never have existed.
No, that’s not the blurb for a new Hollywood blockbuster, although recent developments have proven, once again, that truth is decidedly more bizarre than fiction. Now that “coronavirus” has become a household word, the level of interest in all things virus-related is growing at an unprecedented rate. At the time of writing, coronavirus and COVID-19 topics dominated search traffic on Google, as well as trends on social media. A recent FAQ on this blog addresses many of the questions we hear on these topics.
As scientists, we often find ourselves fielding questions about events in the news that may or may not be related to our area of expertise. Especially during the ongoing pandemic, it can often be difficult to share accurate information without either sparking panic or understating the severity. Nonetheless, we want to support our friends and family in times of uncertainty, and one way to do that is by sharing accurate information about scientific topics.
We’ve gathered answers to a few frequently asked questions
about the COVID-19 pandemic that we’ve received from family members. Have
question we missed? Submit it in the comments and we’ll get back to you.
Have you ever thought about plant viruses? Unless you’re a farmer or avid gardener, probably not. And yet, for many people the battle against agricultural viruses never ends. Plant viruses cause billions of dollars in damage every year and leave millions of people food insecure (1–2), making viruses a major barrier to meeting the United Nations’ global sustainable development goal of Zero Hunger by 2030.
At the University of Western Australia, Senior Research Fellow Dr. Laura Boykin is using genomics and supercomputing to tackle the problem of viral plant diseases. In a recent study, Dr. Boykin and her colleagues used genome sequencing to inform disease management in cassava crops. For this work, they used the MinION, a miniature, portable sequencer made by Oxford Nanopore Technologies, to fully sequence the genomes of viruses infecting cassava plants.
Cassava (Manihot esculenta) is one of the 5 most important calorie sources worldwide (3). Over 800 million people rely on cassava for food and/or income (4). Cassava is susceptible to a group of viruses called begomoviruses, which are transmitted by whiteflies. Resistant cassava varieties are available. However, these resistant plants are usually only protected against a small number of begomoviruses, so proper deployment of these plants means farmers must know both whether their plants are infected and, if so, the strain of virus that’s causing the infection. Continue reading “Moving Towards Zero Hunger, One Genome at a Time”
Following the discovery of Mimivirus (1) the first virus with a particles large enough to be visible under the light microscope, two additional “giant” viruses infecting Acanthamoeba have been discovered Pandoravirus (2) and Pithovirus sibericum (3), the latter from a 30,000 year old Siberian permafrost. A fourth type was recently isolated from the same sample of permafrost by Legendre et al, and named Mollivirus sibericum (4).
Mollivirus sibericum has an approximately spherical virion (0.6 µm diameter) with a 651kb GC-rich genome that encodes 523 proteins. To further characterize the virus the researchers performed transcromic- and proteomic-based time course experiments.
For the particle proteome and infectious cycle analysis, proteins were extracted and then run a 4–12% polyacrylamide gel, and trypsin digests were performed in-gel before nano LC-MS/MS analysis of the resulting peptides. Proteomic studies of the particle showed that it lacked an embarked transcription apparatus, but revealed an unusual presence of many ribosomal and ribosome-related proteins.
When the researchers explored the proteome during the course of an entire infectious cycle, the relative proportions of Mollivirus-, mitochondrion-, and Acanthamoeba encoded proteins were found to vary consistently with an infectious pattern that preserved the cellular host integrity as long as possible and with the release of newly formed virus particles through exocytosis.
In an interesting footnote, the authors of this study point out the fact that two different viruses retain their infectivity in prehistorical permafrost layers should be a concern in the context of global warming and the potential to expose humans to primeval viruses.
The availability of next-generation sequencing, and the accompanying capability to process and analyze large amounts of data, has made many previously unthinkable projects possible. Examples include the sequencing of entire microbial genomes to track the spread of antibiotic-resistant infections in a hospital setting, sequencing all the contents of a particular foodstuff to identify meat sources and contaminants, and the microbiome project—a multi-national research effort to characterize the microrganisms colonizing the human body to look for associations with health and disease.
The ability to both get and process data on this large a scale has led to numerous advances in our understanding of the complex relationships between ourselves and our microbial colonizers. Over the last couple of years the microbiome project has generated data suggesting previously unimagined connections between bacteria colonizing our bodies and obesity, cardiac disease, and even personal identification.
Viruses are small DNA- or RNA-based infectious agents that can replicate only inside living cells of a host organism. Most people know what a virus is, and many of us harbor at least one or two of them at some point during the cold and flu season. However, I would guess that many of us do not know what a virophage is, even though they seem to be more common than previously thought.
It’s a darn good time to be a meme these days, especially on the Internet. The lightning fast transmission of links and videos and funny pictures between millions of people on any number of social media outlets or email means the viral spread and replication of the latest “you’ve got to see this” thing may sometimes occur even more quickly than with, well, actual viruses or gene replication. I know a tiny bit about genes and viruses and maybe a tiny bit more about memes, but had never realized there were such parallels between the biological and the sociobiological. I also never knew that there was any amount of intention behind that commonality, but apparently, that was no accident. Continue reading “I Can Haz Meme-Gene Parallelz?”
By clicking “Accept All”, you consent to the use of ALL the cookies. However you may visit Cookie Settings to provide a controlled consent.
If you are located in the EEA, the United Kingdom, or Switzerland, you can change your settings at any time by clicking Manage Cookie Consent in the footer of our website.
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. These cookies ensure basic functionalities and security features of the website, anonymously.
This cookie is set by GDPR Cookie Consent plugin. The cookie is used to store the user consent for the cookies in the category "Analytics".
The cookie is set by GDPR cookie consent to record the user consent for the cookies in the category "Functional".
This cookie is set by GDPR Cookie Consent plugin. The cookie is used to store the user consent for the cookies in the category "Other.
The cookie is set by GDPR cookie consent to record the user consent for the cookies in the category "Advertisement".
This cookie is set by GDPR Cookie Consent plugin. The cookies is used to store the user consent for the cookies in the category "Necessary".
This cookie is set by GDPR Cookie Consent plugin. The cookie is used to store the user consent for the cookies in the category "Performance".
6 months 2 days
This cookie is set by the provider Media.net. This cookie is used to check the status whether the user has accepted the cookie consent box. It also helps in not showing the cookie consent box upon re-entry to the website.
This cookie is used to store the language preferences of a user to serve up content in that stored language the next time user visit the website.
Analytical cookies are used to understand how visitors interact with the website. These cookies help provide information on metrics the number of visitors, bounce rate, traffic source, etc.
This cookie is associated with Sitecore content and personalization. This cookie is used to identify the repeat visit from a single user. Sitecore will send a persistent session cookie to the web client.
This domain of this cookie is owned by Vimeo. This cookie is used by vimeo to collect tracking information. It sets a unique ID to embed videos to the website.
1 month 18 hours 24 minutes
This cookie is used to calculate unique devices accessing the website.
This cookie is installed by Google Analytics. The cookie is used to calculate visitor, session, campaign data and keep track of site usage for the site's analytics report. The cookies store information anonymously and assign a randomly generated number to identify unique visitors.
This cookie is installed by Google Analytics. The cookie is used to store information of how visitors use a website and helps in creating an analytics report of how the website is doing. The data collected including the number visitors, the source where they have come from, and the pages visted in an anonymous form.
Advertisement cookies are used to provide visitors with relevant ads and marketing campaigns. These cookies track visitors across websites and collect information to provide customized ads.
1 year 24 days
Used by Google DoubleClick and stores information about how the user uses the website and any other advertisement before visiting the website. This is used to present users with ads that are relevant to them according to the user profile.
This cookie is set by doubleclick.net. The purpose of the cookie is to determine if the user's browser supports cookies.
5 months 27 days
This cookie is set by Youtube. Used to track the information of the embedded YouTube videos on a website.
Performance cookies are used to understand and analyze the key performance indexes of the website which helps in delivering a better user experience for the visitors.
This cookies is set by Youtube and is used to track the views of embedded videos.
This is a pattern type cookie set by Google Analytics, where the pattern element on the name contains the unique identity number of the account or website it relates to. It appears to be a variation of the _gat cookie which is used to limit the amount of data recorded by Google on high traffic volume websites.