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The microscopic world is oftentimes as “alien” as the one we see above us when we gaze into the night’s sky, and in the case of the latest findings from a team of scientists in Brazil, it’s not getting any more “normal” anytime soon.
While the world continues to cower in fear over the challenges being presented by the coronavirus (although many have astutely pointed out that the fear of the virus is worse than the virus itself), the next potential viral threat could be looming on the horizon.
In this case, the alleged virus has characteristics that make it even more enigmatic than just about anything recently discovered, and now the question is whether or not humanity can keep this highly puzzling new life form under wraps in the coming years.
New Virus is “Entirely New to Science”
The virus in question, which has been dubbed the Yaravirus, named after Yara or Iara, a water-queen figure in Brazilian mythology, was recovered from Lake Pampulha, an artificial lake in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte.
The Yaravirus is being described as “just as mysterious” as the legendary water nymph, in large part due to its incredibly unique composition.
This virus constitutes “a new lineage of amoebal virus with a puzzling origin and phylogeny,” the Brazilian research team explained a new pre-print paper about its discovery, according to a report from Science Alert.
Two members of the team, virologists Bernard La Scola from France and Jônatas S. Abrahão from Brazil’s Federal University of Minas Gerais, helped discover a different water-dwelling virus two years ago, called the Tupanvirus, a giant virus found only in extreme underwater habitats.
These giant viruses are called as such because of their huge capsids, protein shells that encapsulate virions, aka virus particles.
The larger form of virus was only discovered in this past century, and they have far more than just size at their disposal.
These viruses contain much more complex genomes, giving them the ability to synthesize proteins, allowing them to perform DNA repair, replication, transcription and translation, essentially making them about as “alien” as it gets among the microscopic world of organisms.
Simply put, they are far smarter than your average virus.
Is the Yaravirus an Alien Life Form?
Prior to their discovery it was thought that viruses were not capable of such behaviors and feats, as they were thought to merely be non-living entities only capable of infecting their hosts.
Viruses are far more complex than originally thought, which is part of the reason why human scientists have such an impossible time staying ahead of them (keep in mind that the CDC revealed in 2019 that the flu vaccine for example was only 29% effective against the flu, and this particular type of shot caused more adverse events than any other).
The discovery of this and other viral forms has challenged our thinking about how viruses can spread and function. The Yaravirus, however, is not said to be a giant virus, but is instead comprised of small 80 nanometer-sized particles.
“Most of the known viruses of amoeba have been seen to share many features that eventually prompted authors to classify them into common evolutionary groups,” the scientists wrote.
“Contrary to what is observed in other isolated viruses of amoeba, the Yaravirus is not represented by a large/giant particle and a complex genome, but at the same time carries an important number of previously undescribed genes.”
In total, 90 percent of Yaravirus genes had never been described before, constituting them as “orphan genes,” aka ORFans.
Only six genes bore resemblance to the ones found in the Yaravirus.
It’s just the latest in a long line of discoveries (along with the potential “alien” qualities found within mushrooms as well as deep sea life forms like jellyfish) that once again demonstrates that our definition of life is far different than the one the universe continually shows us to be true.
“Using standard protocols, our very first genetic analysis was unable to find any recognizable sequences of capsid or other classical viral genes in Yaravirus,” the researchers added.
“Following the current metagenomic protocols for viral detection, Yaravirus would not even be recognized as a viral agent.”
So, what is the Yaravirus, after all?
Scientists can only speculate as to its origin and classification at this time, but it could be the first case of an unknown sub-strata of “amoebal virus,” or perhaps the remnants of a giant virus that devolved into its current form.
Either way, it’s becoming clear that there’s so much more to learn about the various “alien” like lifeforms that inhabit our own dimension and planet, let alone the ones way out there in the Milky Way galaxy and beyond.
“The amount of unknown proteins composing the Yaravirus particles reflects the variability existing in the viral world and how much potential of new viral genomes are still to be discovered,” the authors concluded.