The virus, which is so large and weird that it’s redefined the very concept of a virus, has been photographed for the first time. When the virus was originally discovered infecting amoebas in a Parisian water tower in 1992, it was so large that researchers thought it was a microbe.
We're talking about a virus and it's not the swine flu (or H1N1, for scaremongering sites trying to sound like they know science.) We're fairly sure that makes us unique in internet, possibly all media, because as we all know the world can only concentrate on one thing at a time. And it really should be the Giant Mimivirus, the largest virus ever, which we've just discovered opens up like an alien mothership. Really.
It took 11 years for the mimivirus to be officially defined as a virus, though the definition didn’t quite fit. In addition to its enormous size, many of its genes came from bacteria. Some researchers called it a “missing link” that blurred the boundaries between viruses and living cells.
The massively misnamed "mimivirus" is so large it's really halfway between viruses and a full-fledged cell, while its name sounds like a particularly small thing possibly wearing a pink dress. The huge infectious agent can actually be seen by a regular microscope, and is almost as large as a bacteria. We're also not sure whether it can infect humans or not which, if you think about it, is possibly scarier than if we did.
While no cases of human mimiviral sickness have been observed, anti-huge-virus antibodies have been seen in pneumonia patients. This and other unique aspects of the virus prompted a global team of researchers to analyze it, hoping to find its weaknesses (and also whether we needed to find those weaknesses or not.)
They discovered an almost icosohedral shape, a twenty-sided structure displaying five-fold symmetry and a "special vertex". This preferred point is what prevents the protein shell from being perfectly icosohedral, as the five facets around it are altered. This part of the structure can actually open up, like an unfolding flower or - more accurately - like an invading alien deploying ground forces. The viral RNA is then injected into the host cell to begin replication of more massive mimiviruses.
The science involved in reconstructing the viral structure is at the cutting edge of medical research. Like all good science, it helps us understand the unknown, learn about brand new things, and work out how to kill them as necessary. Go Humanity!
Posted by Luke McKinney.
New Details About Mysterious Giant Virus