Scientists at The Wistar Institute, working in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Helsinki, have discovered structural similarities among viruses that infect hosts from all three domains of life. These structural similarities suggest that the viruses, despite their genomic variations and differences in hosts, may have evolved from a common ancestor billions of years ago. The findings will be published in the December 3 issue of Molecular Cell.
Until recently, scientists have tended to view the viral universe as unrelated families of viruses, with little attention given to their similarities. "People tended to concentrate on a single type of virus," says Roger M. Burnett, Ph.D., senior author of the study and professor in Wistars immunology program. "It hadnt been appreciated until a few years ago that there are great structural similarities among seemingly unrelated viruses."
The research builds on earlier work by Burnett and his colleagues, in which they determined the structure of a virus called PRD1 that infects bacteria. They found that it has remarkable structural similarities to human adenoviruses, which cause various diseases, including respiratory infections. Using data from their own and other laboratories, the researchers have created structure-based models to demonstrate structural similarities in the coats--proteins and architecture--among viruses that infect hosts from all three domains of life. The three domains are eukarya (animals, plants, and other higher order organisms); bacteria; and archaea (a recently described group of microorganisms that differ from bacteria and are commonly found in extreme environments like geysers, and alkaline, acidic or salty waters).
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