Giant virus in the sea: Extending the realm of Megaviridae to Viridiplantae.Commun Integr Biol. 2013 Nov 01; 6(6):e25685.CI
The viral nature of the first "giant virus," Mimivirus, was realized in 2003, 10 y after its initial isolation from the water of a cooling tower in Bradford, UK. Soon after its genome was sequenced, the mining of the Global Ocean Sampling environmental sequence database revealed that the closest relatives of Mimivirus, only known to infect Acanthamoeba, were to be found in the sea. These predicted marine Mimivirus relatives remained elusive until 2010, with the first genomic characterization of a virus infecting a heterotrophic unicellular eukaryote, the microflagellate grazer Cafeteria roenbergensis. The genome analysis of a virus (PgV) infecting the common unicellular algae Phaeocystis globosa now shows that it is a bona fide member of the Mimivirus family (i.e., the Megaviridae), extending the realm of these giant viruses to abundant blooming phytoplankton species. Despite its smaller genome size (460 kb encoding 434 proteins), PgV exhibits the most intriguing feature of the previously characterized Megaviridae: an associated virophage. However, the 19-kb virophage genome, devoid of a capsid gene, is packaged in the PgV particle and propagated as a "viral plasmid," the first ever described. The PgV genome also exhibits the duplication of "core genes," normally present as single copies and a putative new type of mobile element. In a DNA polymerase phylogeny including representatives of the three cellular domains, PgV and the other Megaviridae cluster into their own clade deeply branching between domains Archaea and Eukarya domains, thus exhibiting the topology of a fourth domain in the Tree of Life.