Frigid Antarctica Loaded with Viruses

By | November 10, 2009’s icy lakes are home to a surprisingly diverse community of viruses, including some that were previously unidentified, a new study finds.

At first glance, Antarctica’s freshwater lakes don’t seem very hospitable to life. They remain frozen for a good nine months out of the year, and they contain very few nutrients. Some of these lakes have little animal life and are dominated by microorganisms, including algae, bacteria, protozoans and viruses.

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.

“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.

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.

Alcami 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.

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.

via Frigid Antarctica Loaded with Viruses | LiveScience.

Perhaps they survived from a previous civilization that was wiped out by an ice age.

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