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Prehistoric Lakes of Antarctica Discovered with New, Unknown Viruses

080310095817-large Like a modern, micro version of The Thing, Antarctica's icy lakes have been discovered to house a surprisingly diverse community of viruses, including some that were previously unidentified. The finding could shed light on whether microbial life evolved independently in Antarctica, which has been isolated for millions of years, or they were introduced there more recently.

Some of these lakes which are frozen nine months of the year, have little animal life and are dominated by microorganisms, including algae, bacteria, protozoans and viruses. A virus is little more than a package of DNA surrounded by a capsule structure. To survive, viruses must hijack, or infect, living cells and use the host's equipment to replicate.

Antonio Alcami, a researcher from the Spanish Research Council and his colleagues analyzed DNA from viruses found in water samples collected from Antarctica's Lake Limnopolar, a surface lake on Livingston Island. They found nearly 10,000 species, including some small DNA viruses that had never before been identified. In total, the viruses were from 12 different families, some of which may be completely new to science, the researchers suggest.

With few animal and microbial predators around, viruses likely play an important role in controlling the abundance of other microorganisms, the researcher say. However, these viruses have been historically hard to study since many cannot be grown in a laboratory. But thanks to new genome sequencing technology, scientists can identify viruses without needing to grow them in a lab.

"We are just starting to uncover the world of viruses, and this is changing the way we think about viruses and the role they play in microbial ecosystems," said Antonio Alcami, a researcher from the Spanish Research Council.

The results reveal this Antarctic lake supports a virus community that's more diverse than most aquatic environments studied in the world so far - a surprising find considering that the polar region is generally thought to have low biological diversity due to the extreme environmental conditions. The scientists speculate the newly discovered viruses may have adapted specifically to thrive in such harsh conditions.

The team also found the community of viruses changed dramatically depending on the season. When the lake was ice-covered in the spring, the liquid water under the ice was inhabited by mostly small viruses, but in the summer months when the ice melted, the lake was home to mostly larger viruses.

"It looks like a completely different lake in summer," Alcami said. The scientists think the shift might be due to an increase in algae in the summertime, which the larger viruses infect.

The paper was published in the Nov. 6 issue of the journal Science.

Casey Kazan


Well this might be good for our humanity. Researchers might use these visrus to understand how they work, and maybe be able to discover solution for chronic existing diseases..

Good story..

or wipe out humanity by a killer virus

Wow, aint that the truth. Good stuff dude, I like it.


This is of major importance. When life beyond Earth is discovered on planets around other stars, we will need all the possible knowledge of our own biological ecosystem, worldwide. Seems a little premature to declare any emergency or doomsday scenarios may result from these viruses. Global Climate Change is a much more real problem. But cooler heads seem to be taking the lead on these matters.

"A virus is little more than a package of DNA surrounded by a capsule structure."
a lot of journalistic fail in this article. almost all virii are rna based organisms - they don't have any dna. if they had dna they wouldn't need a host organism because trna would enable replication. is the author of this article trying to say that large quantities of virii with actual dna have been found in antarctica???

I wonder what else has yet to be discovered in Antarctica. There have got to be some species yet to be discovered out there still.

Detriech, you picked up on the same thing that confused me. The entire article I couldn't tell if they meant to say DNA or if they rather meant RNA.

aren't there thought to be thousands of yet unknown viruses in the temperate zones? Surely we haven't cataloged all the viruses in the sea and soil? Or have we?

'microbial life evolved independently in Antarctica' .. Even the vague possibility of such a scenario shatters all the existing
notions of micro biology and evolution .Note that abundance of a particular micro organism in a particular place dosent support the concept of independent origin ..It is like saying 'Kangaroo exists only in Australia so it must have a independent evolutionary cycle .

WOw, thats impressive dude!


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