Fears over Coronavirus are taking over the world as more cases are detected. Amidst this humdrum there is another development that happened miles away that went unnoticed. Researchers in Brazil announced that they have discovered a new virus, whose genome is entirely new to science. While the discovery puts to light how little we know about the earth, it also shows how much more research is required in order to understand the world around us. The new discovery is certainly expected to help us understand viruses better and create a new classification of viruses.
What is the new virus named and how was it discovered?
Unlike typhoons, there is no criteria to name viruses. So, the new discovery has been named Yaravirus (Yaravirus brasiliensis) after Yara, the water goddess from Brazilian mythology. The virus was found in Lake Pampulha, an artificial lagoon in the city of Belo Horizonte. It was discovered by a team consisting two senior virologists Bernard La Scola from Aix-Marseille University in France, and Jônatas S. Abrahão from Brazil’s Federal University of Minas Gerais.
While the genome of the virus is not known, what researchers have been able to confirm is that it is an amoebal virus with 90% genes being orphan or unknown genes. The six genes that are known find resemblance with some of the 8,500 publicly available metagenomes.
Is this a first discovery of an unknown virus in many years?
Not really. Two years ago, the same team of scientists discovered a new Giant virus called Tupan, which was again an amoebal virus. Tupan is a giant virus found in extreme aquatic habitats and is termed giant because of huge capsids or protein shells that encapsulate the virions. Tupan, though, is unique for another reason as it possesses complex genomes, which allow it to synthesise proteins and perform functions like DNA repair, replication, transcription and translation. While viruses are known to rely on their hosts for most of their functions, until the discovery of Tupan it was not known that viruses could indeed perform such complex tasks.
So, is Yara a Tupanvirus?
Yara is composed of small 80-nm size particles, so it cannot be classified as a giant virus. Giant viruses usually have capsids more than 200nm. But researchers believe that Yara may be some kind of giant virus that may have somehow evolved into a reduced form. While it is not clear what Yara is, as it does not share any genome with other viruses, it will still contribute a lot to understanding of genomes in viruses. As it represents a new class of virus, whose function is not known. All one can establish is that the new virus, at least, for now is not a risk to the humans.