While looking for new viruses in an artificial lake in Brazil, an international team of researchers made an unexpected discovery.
Among the giant viruses they found infecting the lake’s amoeba population, they also spotted a much smaller specimen. When they analyzed the virus’ genome, they discovered that more than 90 percent of its genes had never been recorded by scientists.
In January, the researchers published a paper on the preprint server bioRxiv detailing their analysis of the new virus, which they named the Yaravirus after Yara, the “mother of waters” in the mythology of the Tupi-Guarani indigenous tribes in Brazil.
The team found the Yaravirus in Lake Pampulha in Belo Horizonte, and after sequencing its genome, they discovered that only six of its genes even slightly resembled viral genes previously recorded in public databases — the other 68 genes were completely new.
The discovery of an almost wholly unique virus might seem particularly worrisome right now given that another new virus — the 2019 novel coronavirus — has killed 910 people since it began spreading across the planet in December.
Additionally, while all viruses infect something — they can only replicate while inside a host — researchers only know of about 1,000 viruses that infect people.
The Yaravirus isn’t one of those — it infects amoebas — but even if it could infect humans, that wouldn’t necessarily make the new virus a threat to our species, as some viruses actually make us healthier.
Ultimately, the importance of Yaravirus’ discovery lies mostly in the fact that it expands the wealth of human knowledge into the tiny infectious agents that play a major role in the health of Earth’s entire ecosystem — for better and for worse.
READ MORE: Scientists discover virus with no recognizable genes [Science Magazine]
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