Incredible Virus Discovery Offers Clues About the Origins of Complex Life - SciTechDaily

Incredible Virus Discovery Offers Clues About the Origins of Complex Life - SciTechDaily

Incredible Virus Discovery Offers Clues About the Origins of Complex Life - SciTechDaily
Jun 27, 2022 1 min, 48 secs

The first discovery of viruses infecting a group of microbes that may include the ancestors of all complex life has been found, scientists at The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) report in Nature Microbiology.

The incredible discovery offers tantalizing clues about the origins of complex life and suggests new directions for investigating the hypothesis that viruses were essential to the evolution of humans and other complex life forms.

There is a well-supported hypothesis that all complex life forms such as humans, starfish, and trees — which feature cells with a nucleus and are called eukaryotes — originated when archaea and bacteria merged to form a hybrid organism.

Recent research suggests the first eukaryotes are direct descendants of so-called Asgard archaea.

Those viruses with similar genomes are grouped together including those that infect bacteria (on the left), eukaryotes (on the right and bottom center).

The viruses that infect Asgard archaea are unique from those that have been described before.

“This study is opening a door to better resolving the origin of eukaryotes and understanding the role of viruses in the ecology and evolution of Asgard archaea,” Rambo said.

“There is a hypothesis that viruses may have contributed to the emergence of complex cellular life.”.

It suggests that, in addition to bacteria and archaea, viruses might have contributed some genetic component to the development of eukaryotes.

The newly discovered viruses that infect currently living Asgard archaea do have some features similar to viruses that infect eukaryotes, including the ability to copy their own DNA and hijack protein modification systems of their hosts.

The fact that these recovered Asgard viruses display characteristics of both viruses that infect eukaryotes and prokaryotes, which have cells without a nucleus, makes them unique since they are not exactly like those that infect other archaea or complex life forms.

“The most exciting thing is they are completely new types of viruses that are different from those that we’ve seen before in archaea and eukaryotes, infecting our microbial relatives,” said Baker, associate professor of marine science and integrative biology and corresponding author of the study.

Reference: “Genomes of six viruses that infect Asgard archaea from deep-sea sediments” 27 June 2022, Nature Microbiology.

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