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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Could virus-eating viruses be the new miracle drugs?

Viruses are capsules with genetic material inside. They are very tiny, much smaller than bacteria. Viruses cause familiar infectious diseases such as the common cold, flu and warts. They also cause severe illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, smallpox and hemorrhagic fevers.

Viruses are like hijackers. They invade living, normal cells and use those cells to multiply and produce other viruses like themselves. This eventually kills the cells, which can make you sick.

Viral infections are hard to treat because viruses live inside your body's cells. They are "protected" from medicines, which usually move through your bloodstream. Antibiotics do not work for viral infections. There are a few antiviral medicines available. Vaccines can help prevent you from getting many viral diseases.

NIH: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Virus-eating virus identified in Antarctic lake

Deep within the waters of Antarctica's Organic Lake an Australian research team, led by microbiologist Ricardo Cavicchioli from the University of New South Wales, have discovered a new virophage, or virus eater. Their findings were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. [via]

The new virophage was discovered by graduate student Sheree Yau and given the name Organic Lake Virophage, or OLV. The new virophage was identified when she noticed that sequences in the protein shell from the lake were similar to a previously discovered virophage named Sputnik.
Sputnik, which was first discovered in the water-cooling tower in Paris in 2008, was the first virophage ever identified. Earlier this month, Matthias Fischer and Curtis Suttle announced the discovery of a second virophage known as Mavirus.
The discovery of OLV makes this only the third virophage, though there is evidence of sequence matches to OLV in numerous other locations including the nearby Ace Lake. However, the other matches span the globe, including a lagoon in the Galapagos Islands, a bay in New Jersey, and a freshwater lake in Panama.
Virophages, which are known as virus eaters, attack other viruses, as is the case with the first virophage, Sputnik. Unable to multiply within a host, virophages rely on hosts infected with other viruses. In the case of Sputnik, it was an amoeba infected with a mamavirus. Sputnik would essentially take over the replication process of the mamavirus. Because of this takeover, the mamavirus is unable to produce properly, thus reducing its ability to infect the amoeba.

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