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Brazil Is Home to the Biggest Viruses Ever Discovered

02/28/2018 - 11h34

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REINALDO JOSE LOPES
FOLHA CONTRIBUTOR

The biggest viruses ever discovered were found in two extreme environments in Brazil: the very salty and alkaline waters of the Pantanal, and the depths off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, about three kilometers underwater.

The two so-called Tupanviruses are immense by microscopic standards, even surpassing the size of several types of bacteria.

The level of sophistication of their DNA is also far superior to what scientists were expecting to encounter in the world of viruses, meaning that in the future they may be adapted and used for biotech experiments.

The hosts that the Brazilian super viruses typically infect in nature are still unknown, but lab results reveal that they can multiply within amoebas: a feat that was also observed in other huge viruses that were discovered over the past few decades.

"The difference is that Tupanviruses can infect many different amoebae species. They are not selective when compared to their relatives", said virologist Jônatas Abrahão at the Virus Laboratory at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG).

In any case, their preference for infecting amoebas signals there is no reason to worry about the possibility they may cause diseases in humans.

Mr. Abrahão is the lead author of the study that describes the parasites' traits. It was published in the open-access scientific journal "Nature Communications". When seen under a microscope the viral particles look like tiny, hairy microphones.

Translated by THOMAS MATHEWSON

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