UT Scientists Discover New Hidden World of Giant Viruses in Seawater

Headlines – Tennessee Today

Steven WilhelmAn international team of researchers including UT faculty has discovered a hidden world of giant viruses within a teaspoon of seawater.
The findings could help scientists directly examine the genetic potential of a virus without first having to grow it in a lab. This ability would be especially helpful for researchers in environmental and medical fields as well as virologists, as it would allow them to more rapidly identify and screen the molecular biology of new viruses.
Using a newly developed technique called single virus genomics—looking at a single virus particle instead of extracting DNA from millions of viruses to sequence a genome—researchers have picked out individual virus particles from seawater collected from the Gulf of Maine and analyzed their genomes. Through their work at the world-renowned Single Cell Genomics Center at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Maine, they discovered that every giant virus they analyzed was different and previously unknown to science. Some of the genomes revealed new infection mechanisms or enzymes not previously observed in viruses.
Giant viruses are a new group of virus particles that are larger, both in size and genomic content, than traditional viruses.
The results were recently published in the International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal, a division of the Nature publishing group.
The UT team members are Steven Wilhelm, Kenneth and Blaire Mossman Professor of Microbiology; Gary LeCleir, research assistant professor; and Mohammad Moniruzzaman, a former microbiology graduate student.
The team also included researchers from the Bigelow Laboratory, the National Institutes of Health, and two United Kingdom-based institutions—the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Sciences and Plymouth University.
The use of single virus genomics is a new way to obtain genomic sequence information from aquatic viruses. The term “viral dark matter,” a reference to the unknown genetic codes associated with observed effects, is often used in conjunction …

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