A new virus discovered in the Mariana Trench

The discovery was made by a research team led by marine virologist Yu-Zhong Zhang, from China Oceanographic University in Qingdao, who described the bacteriophage in the journal Microbiology Spectrum

by Lorenzo Ciotti
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A new virus discovered in the Mariana Trench

At almost 9 thousand meters deep in the Mariana Trench, a new virus has been discovered. The discovery was made by a research team led by marine virologist Yu-Zhong Zhang, from China Oceanographic University in Qingdao, who described the bacteriophage in the journal Microbiology Spectrum.

It would be a bacteriophage, a virus that exclusively infects bacteria, found in sediments near a hydrothermal spring.

Min Wang, one of the study's authors, explained: "To the best of our knowledge, this is the deepest isolated phage known to date in the global ocean." The discovery by Chinese researchers constitutes a new record for a virus.

In fact, this is the one discovered so far at the greatest depth in the oceans.

The bacteriophage was found within sediments at a depth of 8,900 meters, near a hydrothermal spring, and analyzes indicate that it is a phage that infects bacteria of the Halomonas genus, already known to live at those depths.

Something more about the virus

The discovery of viruses dates back to 1892, when Dmitry Ivanovsky described in an article a non-bacterial pathogen capable of infecting tobacco plants, from which in 1898 Martinus Beijerinck discovered the tobacco mosaic virus.

Since then, around 5 000 virus species have been described in detail, although there are believed to be millions of them. Viruses are found in almost all ecosystems on Earth and represent the most abundant biological entity of all.

The discipline that deals with the study of viruses is known as virology, a sub-specialty of microbiology.

Viruses have different characteristics of living beings as they possess a genome, reproduce and evolve through natural selection.

However, according to most authors, although they contain DNA or RNA, they are not considered living beings as they are not organized into cells, not endowed with autonomous life and not capable of replicating autonomously.

Since they possess only some characteristics, they have also been described as organisms on the edge of life or as replicators.

The origins of viruses are not clear: they may have evolved from plasmids, or from transposons and retrotransposons, or as degradation products of cellular DNA, or even during the RNA world phase, before the origin of life.

Evolution for viruses is an important means of horizontal gene transfer, which increases their genetic diversity.

Viruses need a host to replicate, but they also need to transmit from one host to another. The process can occur in many ways: those of plants generally require a vector, that is, a mobile intermediate organism, therefore they are often transmitted from plant to plant by insects that feed on their sap.