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Scientists Discover Mysterious Virus in Brazil With No Known Genes They Can Identify

PHOTO CREDIT: Negative staining of an isolated Yaravirus virion. Boratto et al., 2020, bioRxiv

Scientists have identified an enigmatic virus whose genome seems to be almost entirely new to science, populated by unfamiliar genes that have never before been documented in viral research.

The so-called Yaravirus, named after Yara – or Iara, a water-queen figure in Brazilian mythology – was recovered from Lake Pampulha, an artificial lake in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte.

While Yaravirus (Yaravirus brasiliensis) may be no supernatural siren, the virus could prove to be just as mysterious as the water nymph of legend.

That’s because the virus constitutes “a new lineage of amoebal virus with a puzzling origin and phylogeny,” the research team explains in a new pre-print paper about the discovery.

Two of the senior members of that team – virologists Bernard La Scola from Aix-Marseille University in France, and Jônatas S. Abrahão from Brazil’s Federal University of Minas Gerais – ought to know what they’re talking about.

Two years ago, the pair helped to discover another water-dwelling viral novelty: Tupanvirus, a giant virus found in extreme aquatic habitats.

Giant viruses, as opposed to the regular variety, are so-called because of their huge capsids (protein shells that encapsulate virions – virus particles).

These much larger viral forms were only discovered this century, but they’re not only notable for their size. They also possess more complex genomes, giving them the ability to synthesise proteins, and therefore perform things like DNA repair, plus DNA replication, transcription, and translation.