There has been a new virus identified and it is so weird that it breaks all of the rules for what we know about viruses that infect and survive within an animal host. Previously, we knew that if a single virus managed to insert genes into a cell, the host would then become infected. The theory was that if you chopped up the virus and stuffed the pieces in separately, it wouldn't work.
Scientists at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases did just that, and found that the virus can still take hold.
"It's the most bizarre thing," virologist Edward Holmes, University of Sydney, Australia, who wasn't involved in the study, said. "If you compare it to the human body, it's like a person would have their legs, trunk, and arms all in different places," he says. "Then all the pieces come together in some way to work as one single virus. I don't think anything else in nature moves this way."
Normally, viruses are perfectly created to be small enough so that it can latch onto any cell near it with the tiny spikes on its surface. Once the virus makes contact, it can cut away at the outer membrane and put both DNA and RNA inside.
The host's enzymes will start making new viruses using this information, and eventually, the virus will break free from the cells and continue onto the
What the team found is that the Guaico Culex virus (GCXV) - a new type of 'multicomponent' virus. So far, it has been found with living mosquitos. It has been cut into five independent packages, and you need to come into contact with at least four different parts.
"The fifth ball seems to be optional," says one of the team, Jason Ladner. Getting acquainted with all five might make the virus worse.
Up until now, this type of virus was thought to only impact plants and fungi. The question remains as to whether or not humans and other mammals can be affected by it. The theory is that it might not be able to, though it is close to a group of viruses that infect monkeys.
"We're trying to make sure that we're not blindsided when the next virus comes around," virologist Gustavo Palacios, who helped lead the study, wrote in a statement. "With all of the diversity seen in these emerging viruses, we never know what the next one will be to have an impact on human health."
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The research has been published in Cell Host & Microbe.