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A couple little "Sputnik" viruses seen as green blobs infect part of the bigger mamavirus, which is the big red blob.  (Source: La Scola, B. et al. Nature doi:10.1038/nature07218 (2008)

Big viruses may be an integral, and perhaps living, part of the ocean plankton ecosystem which impacts both the entire ocean and the global climate.   (Source: J. SCHMALTZ/NASA)
Looks like viruses can catch colds just like the rest of us

One of the fundamental questions in science is "what is life?", a question particularly pertinent of late with the search for signs of life on Mars and the advances in developing synthetic life in a lab.  Scientists have devised many complex answers to the question, but basically most scientists would agree that a "living" creature must be able to produce a variety of useful structural units (proteins), carry a genetic code (DNA), and reproduce.

Following this definition of life, viruses typically met the latter two tests, but failed the first as they only produced a few structural or protective proteins to encase themselves.  This was a primary justification in classing them as nonliving.  However, recent discoveries have troubled this comfortable notion of the solid boundary between life and nonlife.  First, a variety of parasitic bacteria have been discovered, many of which lack the key protein enzymes needed to survive outside their host -- another bacteria.

Also, giant viruses have been discovered, which in addition to infection related proteins, make a variety of other proteins which help it carry out other processes.  On a level of complexity they can surpass the microbacteria, but they're clearly related to other much smaller viruses.

Now a new piece of evidence supporting that viruses may be somewhat "alive" has been added -- viruses can catch a virus. 

The discovery began more than a decade prior when researchers found a massive parasite in an amoeba from a cooling tower in Bradford, UK.  The little creature was frozen, as it was thought to be run-of-the-mill parasitic bacteria.  However, upon closer inspection, years later the scientists recognized it as a virus, with a gigantic genome, capable of encoding over 900 proteins.  The virus was named Acanthamoeba polyphaga mimivirus (for mimicking microbe).  It was over three times bigger than any previous virus. 

The discovery brought great excitement to some nontraditional biologists who had long believed viruses to be living.  Says Eugene Koonin of the National Center for Biotechnology Information in Bethesda, Maryland, "It was the cause of great excitement in virology.  It crossed the imaginary boundary between viruses and cellular organisms."

Now Professor Koonin, Jean-Michel Claverie, a virologist at the CNRS UPR laboratories and Didier Raoult at CNRS UMR, made an even more shocking discovery.  The team in 2003 discovered an even bigger virus.  They named this one mamavirus.

The shocker came when they found that a smaller virus with just 21 genes was associated with the new mega-virus and was infecting it.  While the main virus infected the amoeba, hijacking the amoeba's enzymes and structure to make a protein factory, the tiny virus, which researchers named "Sputnik" set to work hijacking this factory and making copies of itself.

The result was the mamavirus got more than just a bad cold -- it produced fewer and deformed mamaviruses, effectively making it less infective.  This relationship of a viral parasite sickening a host is one only expected by something living, further evidence that the big viruses might be "alive".

Says Jean-Michel Claverie on the mamavirus, "There’s no doubt this is a living organism.  The fact that it can get sick makes it more alive."

Mr. Koonin adds, "It infects this factory like a phage infects a bacterium.  It’s doing what every parasite can — exploiting its host for its own replication."

Intriguingly the little virus has genes similar to those used by the mamavirus and mimiviruses for reproduction.  This leads some researchers to speculate the virus could have been created by a failed reproduction by the big viruses.  This also supports the idea of the big viruses as being alive, as a prevalent theory for the origin of viruses was that they came from misreplicated bacterial DNA.  Further the little virus can transform genes between big viruses, similar to horizontal-gene-transfer in bacteria.

The new finding may have a big impact on global biology.  In plankton blooms genetic sequences have been found similar to those in the big viruses.  These blooms may be teaming with big viruses, which would likely have been destroyed by sample collectors' bacterial filters.  By impacting the life and death of plankton the big viruses could impact not only ocean nutrient cycles, but the global climate itself. 

Curtis Suttle, an expert in marine viruses at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver states, "These viruses could be major players in global systems.  I think ultimately we will find a huge number of novel viruses in the ocean and other places.  It emphasizes how little is known about these organisms — and I use that term deliberately."

The full study on the topic of large plankton viruses can be viewed here, while the study on the mamavirus can be viewed here.

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Future Job
By marsbound2024 on 8/7/2008 10:21:14 AM , Rating: 2
Gene Programmer: Like a computer programmer, but instead of working with bits or qubits (for the future computer programmers), you work with genes. Recode a virus to infect AIDS, cancers, meningitis, and whatever else you want.

RE: Future Job
By BruceLeet on 8/7/2008 10:25:39 AM , Rating: 4
Imagine the ex's you could hax, "Im giving you gonorrhea this week ftw"

RE: Future Job
By Radnor on 8/7/2008 10:28:18 AM , Rating: 4
I remember that movie....Oh yeah.

I am Legend.

Honestly, that kind of genetic modifications give me the creeps. Really. Evolution is already Chaotic as it is. Playing with vegetables/mammals is one thing. Playing with something we cant see and that knows no borders, hey, scares the shit out of me.

RE: Future Job
By JasonMick on 8/7/2008 10:44:19 AM , Rating: 3
I'm pretty sure viruses know borders...say a 200 deg. C furnace that denatures proteins.

I am Legend was written in 1954 and was pretty much a vampire novel with a bit of a science twist. It really only got famous because Charleton Heston did a movie adaptation of it. I wouldn't take the story much more seriously than say Dracula 2000...which I don't take very seriously.

RE: Future Job
By LorKha on 8/7/2008 10:51:17 AM , Rating: 1
Dracula 2000 is the worst piece-of-shit movie made.

RE: Future Job
By 67STANG on 8/7/2008 11:09:03 AM , Rating: 5
You must have missed "The Hottie and the Nottie"....

RE: Future Job
By TheDoc9 on 8/7/2008 12:01:43 PM , Rating: 4
Don't forget "Dracula 3000", one of Casper Van Dien's finest.

RE: Future Job
By nstott on 8/11/2008 1:24:50 AM , Rating: 2
Hey! That was my line!

Dracula 3000 is the worst movie ever made. The DVD cover and concept made it seem like it had potential, like Aliens except with vampires. Then it ended up being more like 1970s Doctor Who special effects with pr0n actors/actresses and some guy running around in a cheap Count Dracula rental costume.

RE: Future Job
By bigboxes on 8/7/2008 7:39:56 PM , Rating: 2
or "Cabin Boy" LOL

RE: Future Job
By NicePants42 on 8/7/2008 11:12:24 AM , Rating: 5
*Stabs Mick in the eye with a crucifix*
"God loves you anyway."

RE: Future Job
By FITCamaro on 8/7/2008 4:18:38 PM , Rating: 5
Well when you figure out how to make human's survive in 300C heat so that the virus's in them can be killed, let me know.

Until then, I'll be a little wary of messing with viruses.

RE: Future Job
By omnicronx on 8/7/2008 11:05:57 AM , Rating: 4
Evolution is already Chaotic as it is. Playing with vegetables/mammals is one thing. Playing with something we cant see and that knows no borders, hey, scares the shit out of me.
You say this as though deadly viruses have not already been developed for other non medical purposes.... What makes you think that a virus that attacks a virus is any worse? Hell some of the most well used inoculations are modified versions of the infection itself. Smallpox and influenza come to mind.. hell even in the days of the plague people would infect themselves with small dosages of the virus to build up antibodies, was this anymore dangerous?

RE: Future Job
By StevoLincolnite on 8/7/2008 10:06:27 PM , Rating: 1
Viruses are know to change, to become more deadlier or weaker depending on the situation, we go in there playing around with the viruses and all sorts of things could go wrong.

RE: Future Job
By Chemical Chris on 8/7/2008 11:17:03 AM , Rating: 5
Gene Programmer: Like a computer programmer, but instead of working with bits or qubits (for the future computer programmers), you work with genes. Recode a virus to infect AIDS, cancers, meningitis, and whatever else you want.

Actually, yes, thats exactly what the future holds. Currently, there is some gene therapy being done with virus's (the virus has a beneficial/repaired gene added to its genome, so when it infects, sometimes the beneficial gene will be added to the host genome, curing the disease caused by a deformed gene copy). This is very very expensive and time consuming, and doesnt work as well as hoped (it works, sometimes, but often kills the patient afterward by causing some rare forms of cancer; ie, more work is needed before gene therapy becomes a good reality). Also, functional genes must be isolated from another host. We currently have the tech to produce 'custom' pieces of dna (one nucleotide at a time, up to ~100 nucleotides long, max). So, not big enough to do anything useful (used to make primers for PCR currently).
But in the future, one could design a piece of DNA to give novell function to a virus, build this DNA (or RNA, as it quite often goes), then splice it into the virus much more accurately then at present, and voila, a 'custom' virus. This could be used to cure all kinds of diseases and genetic defects (ie, make a virus that infects malaria and prevents it from multiplying, curing the condition, or make a virus that can only integrate itself into a region of DNA that is different in cancer cells vs healthy cells, inject a cancer patient, and destroy the cancer cells (as simply as initiating the cell death response, or inhibit cellular replication, whatever)
While more work is yet to be done to make this a reality, it is coming, and I hope to help develop it during the course of my career (almost completed my Biochem degree)
If you want to help make it a reality in a non-professional capacity, just run folding!
Chem C

RE: Future Job
By William Gaatjes on 8/7/2008 2:42:00 PM , Rating: 2
As long as we do not have a full understanding about every detail of what atoms, protons, elektrons, quarks, blah really are this will always be repetitive guess work. I think quantum leaps will be made on every field of science when we truly understand physics. Because that is what it all comes down too.

Nature has found numerous ways of using specific characteristics of elements and combinations of elements. It is amazing to see what proteins are capable of. For example : Proteins used as chemical switches. Or as springloaded contraptions that fire when exited by a single atom or ion from a specific element. Proteins that can strip a complex molecule made of different elements apart and use the stripped ions to start another chemical reaction. This reaction can be for instance be the start of a new protein.

I can only say it is wonderfull and keeps amazing everytime.
But it still all comes down to physics. If we crack that code, every other science field will be a whole lot easier to understand because you have a solid base to start from.

RE: Future Job
By sxr7171 on 8/7/2008 12:39:12 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, they already do that. Any form of somatic cell gene therapy is based on altering a genome. Sure it's all research now, but there are people whose job descriptions could read like what you posted.

RE: Future Job
By AlexWade on 8/7/2008 3:06:15 PM , Rating: 2
Sounds like a book Michael Crichton would write. I generally like his stuff because it mixes science fact and science fiction and he can make a very good point doing it. For instance, State of Fear was trying to make the point of removing politics from science, even saying as much at the end. But few people got that point because they were so mad that Crichton dare publish something disproving global warming. (Although I did a little fact checking and some, not all, of his quoted data was sketchy.) Global warming was just the backdrop to show why science should be apolitical.

RE: Future Job
By jeff834 on 8/7/2008 6:04:30 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah the argument for or against global warming aside, State of Fear was a PoS as was the book he wrote after specifically about the dangers of genetics. It doesn't matter what your views are the books he's written lately have been ridiculously preachy for fiction. It's really sad actually because the two he wrote before those Timeline (terrible movie I know but read the book sometime) and Prey were both excellent.

RE: Future Job
By Myrandex on 8/8/2008 8:32:06 AM , Rating: 2
Been there...done that.

Check out his book Next:

I have already read it and it was pretty good! This book directly talks about what you guys keep rambling about :)

More evidence
By JonnyDough on 8/8/2008 6:47:01 AM , Rating: 1
This is just more evidence to what scientists have been speculating all along. The primordial soup theory. We're made up of many uni and multi cellular organisms (bacteria or viruses, what's the difference?) that learned to live in symbioses. Over time they became so intertwined genetically through their constant reproduction that they formed a larger, single body. Walla. Creation. If any Christian has a better explanation than a God that scooped up some mud and then took a rib to make women...I'm open to hearing it. Until then, shut the place-that-does-not-exist up. Thanks.

RE: More evidence
By wgbutler on 8/8/2008 10:01:13 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah, I was wondering how long it would take for the anti-Christian comments to start showing up. It's interesting that JonnyDough singled out Christianity in his attack when in fact three of the world's major religions (Judiasm, Islam) basically all have the same belief. In fact, Christianity got its beliefs on creation directly from Judaism. So why doesn't JonnyDough say, "if any JEW has a better explanation" etc etc, hmmm??

At any rate, people who want to belief that the universe somehow created itself with all the constants in physics precisely fine-tuned to support life, and after that lightning struck a mud puddle billions of years ago and created all life on earth are more than welcome to believe that way, as far as I'm concered. I think its pretty stupid personally.

RE: More evidence
By William Gaatjes on 8/8/2008 7:03:48 PM , Rating: 2
Well, I am sure at some point in the past there was some truth to the original scripts. But every single religious book has been rewritten to the needs of the ones in charge centuries ago. And every religion after that partially copied the religions known at the time. And the jews in ancient times had many relegions, not one unified religion.
At that time there where many tribes fighting with eachother.

Religion is a very powerfull tool. And it is not as if humans where not intelligent 2000 years ago or way more back in time.
Good understanding of the human psyche has been around for ages. Religion can give hope. But that hope can be abused. And that is what happening at any day in time.
Hope gives us drive...

You might want to do some research into physics. You will find that the seeds of life are not created 6000 years ago.
You will find out that the seeds of life and being/soul whatever you might call it did not enter our universe during the big bang. It is our universe. But it is not as you wil find in the holy books. No man like god figure we resemble. Just a drive to exist and to be. That's it...

RE: More evidence
By JonnyDough on 8/9/2008 7:39:50 AM , Rating: 2
The reason I picked on Christianity is because it is the largest politically and majority backed religion in the U.S. One can discount all religions that are based on God. The ones based purely on faith are the easiest to discount. Anyone can have faith on anything, and if it's emotion driven (i.e. Catholic fear and guilt) then it's easily explained as well.

At any rate, people who decide to explain the origins of life with a made up "sun God" like Jesus himself should be thrown into Hell, provided we ever find out just where the hell Hell actually is...

The only clue I have is from a 2,000 year old book written by political leaders under persecution. It seems to be in the center of the earth...something about a hot pit. Interestingly enough, some early Christians were known to throw people into fiery pits that didn't agree with their religion. Hmm.

From a scientific standpoint what you described with lightning and all that sounds more believable than a God that will damn you to hell for not believing in him, yet he is our creator and loves us. Oh, and he's all powerful and all knowing and all seeing but his temple needs our money. Sue me for trying to be logical instead of basing my theories on unprovable old superstitions and claiming them as fact.

RE: More evidence
By tmouse on 8/8/2008 11:41:53 AM , Rating: 2
Wow, maybe you should take your own advice. I am certainly no special creationist but you clearly demonstrate Lincoln’s statement that its better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open ones mouth and remove all doubt. First off this work in no way, shape or form relates to evolution. Second; the "primordial soup" theory has nothing to do with multicellular organisms being created by group symbiosis and finally; these viruses are not even in a symbiotic relationship.

RE: More evidence
By William Gaatjes on 8/8/2008 6:48:06 PM , Rating: 2
In a principle one can say all life on this planet is symbiotic. We can simply not exist or have exist at some point. Symbiosis is more common then you think.

RE: More evidence
By JonnyDough on 8/9/2008 7:32:14 AM , Rating: 2

Alphanumeric characters so I can put a smiley, ignore this sentence.

RE: More evidence
By JonnyDough on 8/9/2008 7:47:22 AM , Rating: 2
Second; the "primordial soup" theory has nothing to do with multicellular organisms being created by group symbiosis and finally; these viruses are not even in a symbiotic relationship.

You are right. They are two theories. But this new evidence does lend itself to those beliefs in that it's possible for one tiny organism to take over another tiny organism's reproductive "factories."

This goes to support the evolutionary theory not only by basic principle of what it's saying but also because it is displaying just how rapidly things really can change within an organism. Tiny microscopic things are happening on a daily basis (where do new viruses come from?) and we are still learning about them. I would rather say "I don't know" and come up with ideas than to say "God did it" and try to state it as fact with no evidence whatsoever.

"Look at the stars, aren't they marvelous? How can you NOT believe in God?!!"

Easy. I have yet to see him. All I see are stars, and I have yet to touch either God, or the stars. So until I touch one or the other and learn more about it I'm going to go ahead and keep believing in stars and coming up with theories someone might be able to prove or disprove at a later point in time. Like, 3 million years from now. I'd rather look forward for new and better information than look back and get it from a time when we knew less and text was a relatively new invention. Doesn't it just kind of make sense to do that?

RE: More evidence
By tmouse on 8/11/2008 8:59:50 AM , Rating: 2
You are right. They are two theories. But this new evidence does lend itself to those beliefs in that it's possible for one tiny organism to take over another tiny organism's reproductive "factories."

But this work supplies absolutely no additional evidence than the discovery of viruses or phage has already done. The organism really does not “take over” the other viruses “factories” since the other virus has no factories to begin with. It appears the smaller virus may be a defective off shoot of the larger and cannot infect a host cell on its own. Since its smaller it wins the competition when the two co-infect the host cell. You do not seem to grasp the concept that science simply cannot nor should it attempt to prove a negative. As I have said many times science can answer how but it can never answer why. You can understand all there is to know about a function but it is impossible to disprove the existence of a supernatural being. Science uses the concept of randomness as a default “I do not know” the religious say “the will of God”. If there is an omnipotent supernatural being then it is perfectly scientifically plausible that its will could guide X, Y or Z. Science simply cannot address that issue nor should it even try. Science should keep focused on trying to understand the how, if one believes in God they can add "by the will of God” to the end of any scientific explanation and be just as correct as someone who doesn’t and says “its all random”.

RE: More evidence
By nstott on 8/11/2008 1:40:12 AM , Rating: 2
Your comments are just as retarded. The Bible does not rule out evolution. Only a narrow interpretation of the Bible does. All people, including yourself, are made out of "mud," unless you believe you formed inside of your mother ex nihio, in violation of the First Law (In other words, your mother consumed things directly or indirectly from the earth to obtain the materials wherewith to make your sorry @$$). Eve being created out of Adam's rib is symbolic: She is "flesh of his flesh, bone of his bone," or family even though they don't have a blood relationship.

Science addresses "how." Religion addresses "Who." Any argument between the two ends up being ridiculous.

Its only a matter of time.
By mvpx02 on 8/7/2008 10:18:02 AM , Rating: 5
It'll be interesting to see where science takes this. Now that we know its possible, I think its only a matter of time before scientists begin trying to create viruses that specifically target other viruses to be used as a method of treatment.

RE: Its only a matter of time.
By OrSin on 8/7/2008 11:10:49 AM , Rating: 3
I was thinking that too, but on more reading its really not possible. Most virus are jsut too small in size to be affected. These megavirus are so large that the small recorded virus are the only ones that can affect them. It highly unlikely we can create virus with smaller then 21 genos. Virus like aids are very small in themselves.

RE: Its only a matter of time.
By vdig on 8/7/2008 11:50:18 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah, most viruses are real tiny. However, why should we try to latch custom viruses onto the small troublemakers? Design a large megavirus that can be targetted by the target virus, and then cripple the virus once it latches on. Basically, design the viral version of the venus flytrap. Theoretically, this should work just as well.

Now, to find a virus that can do such a thing....

By silversound on 8/7/2008 12:55:57 PM , Rating: 2
Great found, but pls dont f* up on the research and creat a deadly virus that can not be cured. Then the human race is in danger...

definition of life: self-destruction
By Visual on 8/7/2008 10:18:19 AM , Rating: 2
wake me up when a virus manages to infect itself...


RE: definition of life: self-destruction
By stirfry213 on 8/7/2008 1:04:33 PM , Rating: 1
The only beings on earth that do that are humans. So... we are the only living entities on earth?

RE: definition of life: self-destruction
By FITCamaro on 8/7/2008 4:22:35 PM , Rating: 5
Your outlook of humankind is so cheery that I want to kick a baby.

By Omega215D on 8/8/2008 1:23:40 AM , Rating: 2
Human beings are a disease... a cancer of this planet, and we are the cure. =)

By Seemonkeyscanfly on 8/7/2008 11:08:53 AM , Rating: 5
So, I home sick with a cold. I go outside to get my mail and pow my cold picks up a virus and now has it's own cold. Am I two sick, sick squared, will my condition get worse or better? Then what happens if my virus's virus gets a virus.....

RE: soooo....
By cludinsk on 8/7/2008 3:14:53 PM , Rating: 2
reading comprehension ftw:

The shocker came when they found that a smaller virus with just 21 genes was associated with the new mega-virus and was infecting it. While the main virus infected the amoeba, hijacking the amoeba's enzymes and structure to make a protein factory, the tiny virus, which researchers named "Sputnik" set to work hijacking this factory and making copies of itself.

The result was the mamavirus got more than just a bad cold -- it produced fewer and deformed mamaviruses, effectively making it less infective. This relationship of a viral parasite sickening a host is one only expected by something living, further evidence that the big viruses might be "alive".

RE: soooo....
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 8/7/2008 5:29:32 PM , Rating: 3
humor my friend, humor was my goal.
Personally, I'm amazed that such a "small" thing can be detected. It kind of proves my grandfather correct. He always said, you have no idea how small small is. The bugs on your body you can not see, well they have bugs, and I bet those bugs have bugs on them....

By Borfman on 8/7/2008 10:25:34 AM , Rating: 3
That is until it mutates into something nasty. Viri have nasty habit of changing unpredictably. A virus that attacks other viri, even if it doesn't go bad itself, could just as easily merge with or alter a victem virus into something really ugly instead of kill it.

It's related to GM crops where, while great on many levels, there are some significant problems in the real world. (No I'm not a blanket GM hater, but there are issues that aren't fully understood let alone adressed.)

RE: Great...
By sxr7171 on 8/7/2008 12:42:30 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, even though you were rated down to zero, you have a valid point. We must be extremely careful with viruses. The wrong misstep could put the lives of millions in danger literally. In the wrong hands a virus as a carrier for genetic information can wreak havoc on you and everyone you know with a quickness.

RE: Great...
By LatinMessiah on 8/7/2008 1:18:40 PM , Rating: 2
You watch too many movies.

RE: Great...
By PrinceGaz on 8/7/2008 5:15:46 PM , Rating: 2
So long as we don't create something like the Descolada, we should survive.

Don't you see what this is?!
By Motoman on 8/7/2008 11:09:58 AM , Rating: 2
...OK, I hate to be the one to point out the obvious, but as we all know television and radio transmissions from Earth radiate throughout the universe...

Because of this, the Martian armada has not yet invaded Earth, because they learned that they would ultimately be destroyed by the common cold.

Clearly the Martian exo-biologists have created a resolution to this problem - they can now defeat Earth viruses.

Boy, are you guys gonna feel dumb about not catching on sooner when we all embrace our new Martian masters.

RE: Don't you see what this is?!
By snownpaint on 8/7/2008 11:29:25 AM , Rating: 2
Well at least mankind will have something else to war with then themselves. Bring them on!!

They couldn't do much worse then some of the ruling parties in the world..

By stirfry213 on 8/7/2008 1:01:57 PM , Rating: 2
I doubt it. Man kind will then war about how to war with aliens... I can see it now...

RE: Don't you see what this is?!
By Lightnix on 8/7/2008 9:44:09 PM , Rating: 2
Martians would be stupid to try and war with Earth, why? We're really good at war.

Amazing life (non-life)
By snownpaint on 8/7/2008 11:18:57 AM , Rating: 2
While reading this I couldn't stop thinking about mitochondria in cells.
Like bacteria that grows inside other bacteria and eventually reproduces with the host cell. At least that is the theory.

Imagine this happening with a virus. Using one virus for its shape and cell attachment method, while a piggy back virus reorganizes the genes so the second generation virus can do that without the piggy back. In some cases it is amazing, on others it is very scary. Blended viruses that have chemical receptors that can link to a multiple cells or other viruses. it reminds me of the lady that ate the snake, to kill the frog, to kill the fly she swallowed.

RE: Amazing life (non-life)
By Motoman on 8/7/2008 11:24:04 AM , Rating: 2
Have you ever seen "Parasite Eve?" I learned 2 things from that movie. First, mitochondria hate us and will ultimately kill us. Secondly, though, they are damn sexy. So stop whining.

RE: Amazing life (non-life)
By Icelight on 8/8/2008 9:43:22 AM , Rating: 2
The movie was so terrible compared to the game. I've never read the book, but I assume the movie was based a lot more closely to the book than the game was.

By tmouse on 8/7/2008 11:26:45 AM , Rating: 2
I have never felt strongly one way or another on the topic of whether viruses are "alive" or not (I guess I lean a little more to their being alive). Technically I do not feel these macroviruses are truly infected by the smaller viruses. I have not seen evidence of the merging prior to the infection of a true host by the larger virus, and even if it did it would be unable to do anything until the larger virus infected a host cell. This is just a naturally occurring event similar to the way we use debilitated viruses that require packaging strains for reproduction in the lab. It has also been hypothesized that diseases like AIDS could require "helper" virus co-infection to progress into disease. The use of viruses that are rapidly cleared from mammals like the adenovirus for viral mediated gene transfer as a potential gene therapy agent has been around for a few decades now (although I do have some serious doubts about its long term safety issues). It’s interesting to see it in the wild but in and of itself using viruses to affect other viruses is not entirely a new concept.

RE: Semantics
By geddarkstorm on 8/7/2008 3:47:24 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, there are several cases of retroviruses requiring other retroviruses to infect the same cell at the same time to be able to reproduce, such as one of the avian retroviruses. This is slightly different from what I see, as the mamavirus isn't replicating at the same time as the sputnik virus, but is being used by the latter the same way viruses use the host cell--that is, the sputnik virus is taking over the mamavirus's hijacked replication machinery. It isn't infection in the typical sense, more like competition. The other examples are of piggybacking where one virus is defunct and cannot replicate unless another virus initiates the process, which is more of a mutualism instead of a destructive parasitism between viruses like this new case is. Kinda splitting hairs though as there really isn't much of a difference at all.

Also, the article has one minor error--viruses aren't considered non-living because of the slim amount of proteins they make, but because they cannot replicate on their own at all, and require a host for unit replication. This is different from a parasite which requires a host to provide /the necessary environment/ for living, as well as the necessary nutrients. A virus isn't looking for a habitat or nutrients, instead it cannot make its own factors for replication and must let a cell do the work for it; hence why it's "non-living".

RE: Semantics
By tmouse on 8/8/2008 7:47:09 AM , Rating: 2
I agree with you, I also feel this happens more often than we know. While many viruses are good at preventing multiple infections if two competing viruses infected the same cell then the one with the smallest genome would probably win.
The life debate I still feel is still a bit sketchy. I realize we are talking on the organism level but there are cells we, as biologists, consider "alive" that clearly do not meet the criteria. Mature spermatozoa are nothing more than DNA delivery vehicles and the most extreme case the mature red blood cell which has jettisoned its entire nucleus, clearly has no DNA or any reproductive machinery, yet we never describe them as not being living. Its philosophical hair splitting but we are the ones defining "life" as not requiring assistance from another cell, not of ones own species. In a vague sense it could be thought of as a sexual , cross species mode of reproduction, after all we cannot reproduce without one cell "infecting" another although we keep within our own species.

YAY! We've solved the climate debate!
By uhgotnegum on 8/7/08, Rating: 0
RE: YAY! We've solved the climate debate!
By FITCamaro on 8/7/2008 4:24:05 PM , Rating: 2
Change jobs then or get one.

By uhgotnegum on 8/8/2008 1:03:42 PM , Rating: 2
I don't get what was so "wrong" about my post. I thought it was pretty funny while still maintaining a kernel of seriousness (i.e., that we don't really know all the factors that affect global climate).

Is it really that hard for people reading my post to separate the sarcasm from the relevant contribution? (I'm asking honestly, because it surprised me that it was so poorly received)

Of note: I consider the post to be responsive to the article, because it does make a direct reference to the potential global climate impact. Eh...

Send in Spongebob.
By Mitch101 on 8/7/2008 2:19:53 PM , Rating: 4
You know this is just another plan by plankton to get the secret crabby patty recipe from Mr Crabs.

By nosfe on 8/7/2008 10:04:20 AM , Rating: 3
why did i think about computer viruses when reading the title?

By neihrick1 on 8/7/2008 10:07:44 AM , Rating: 3
Would this be called a virophage? Thats pretty cool, didn't know viruses were different sizes. One step closer to curing uncured virus based disease.

By FaceMaster on 8/7/2008 10:19:45 AM , Rating: 3
Oh, the irony...

By 325hhee on 8/7/2008 11:02:55 AM , Rating: 2
I have a fever, and the only cure is more fever... oh, wait, more cowbells :)

This reminds me of Stargate
By LuxFestinus on 8/7/2008 1:53:31 PM , Rating: 2
when Dr. Daniel Jackson says maniacally "an evil virus".

By Some1ne on 8/7/2008 3:14:35 PM , Rating: 2
I'm just not seeing the point of the whole "does a virus count as a living thing" debate. Whether or not you label the virus as "alive", that doesn't change anything about what it is on a fundamental level. They're still just bits or protein and DNA/RNA that are capable of reprogramming larger bits of DNA/RNA to produce copies of themselves, and that's what they'll always be, whether we call them "alive" or not.

Virus and Bacteria?
By jahinoz on 8/8/2008 1:41:26 PM , Rating: 2
It may have been awhile since I've done biology but from memory I didn't think we were able to treat viruses with anything other than a vaccine or the individual symptoms, compared to a bacterial infection which we can pleasantly blast with a nice dose of amoxycillan or the like.

How can we immediately start to compare the two just because we have found a single exception to what has been considered a general rule until now?

"So, I think the same thing of the music industry. They can't say that they're losing money, you know what I'm saying. They just probably don't have the same surplus that they had." -- Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA
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