Why giant viruses found in Greenland could play a major role in the environmental crisis

Dark-coloured snow and icy algae from glaciers help speed up the melting of ice on the planet (Getty)

Giant viruses discovered in the ice sheet green land It could become a tool to reduce the melting of ice in that region of the planet, and help combat climate change.

Which is according to study Conducted by researchers from the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Aarhus University (Denmark), these viruses likely regulate the growth of snow algae on ice by infecting them. Therefore, its function is considered essential in the environmental crisis that the planet is experiencing.

This is because the algae, as they are known, remain dormant on the ice during the fall and winter months They begin to bloom in the spring, blackening large areas of ice. In this way, its ability to reflect the sun is reduced It accelerates its dissolutionany It exacerbates global warming.

Viruses likely regulate the growth of snow algae on ice by infecting them (illustration)

The irony of this finding, the researchers explain, is that viruses tend to be much smaller than bacteria, with typical dimensions of 20 to 200 nanometers, compared to bacteria, which average between 2 and 3 micrometers.

That is, a normal virus is about a thousand times smaller than bacteria. However, this is not the case with giant viruses, which, as seen in the study, can reach 2.5 micrometers in size, thus surpassing most bacteria in size.

But, in addition, it is not only large in size, but also… They have a much larger genome than conventional viruses. While phages that infect bacteria can contain between 100,000 and 200,000 letters in their genome, giant viruses contain about 2,500,000 letters, which sets them apart remarkably in their genetic complexity.

Giant viruses were first discovered in 1981, but this is the first time that giant viruses have been found living on the surface of ice and snow dominated by microalgae (AP).

Added to this is the post-doctoral stage Laura Perini“This is the first time that giant viruses have been found living on the surface of ice and snow dominated by microalgae,” he stressed, one of the first authors of the latest work.

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The expert said: “Giant viruses were first discovered in 1981, when researchers found them in the ocean.” These viruses have specialized in infecting green sea algae. Later, giant viruses were found in Earth's soil and even in humans.

After pointing that out “Not much is known about these viruses.”The researcher from the Department of Environmental Sciences at the Danish University analyzed: “I think it could be useful as a way to mitigate the melting of ice caused by algae blooms.” We don't know how specific it is and how efficient it is yet. But by exploring it further, we hope to answer some of these questions.

Viruses are usually much smaller than bacteria, but this is not the case with giant viruses (illustration)

Although scientists call existing viruses “giants,” the truth is that They are invisible to the naked eye. By the way, Perini herself confirmed that she had not yet seen them under an optical microscope.

So how did they find them? “The way we discovered viruses was… Analyze all the DNA from the samples we took -Expert's detail-. “By examining this large dataset for specific genes, we found sequences that have high similarity to known giant viruses.”

Then, to ensure that the viral DNA did not come from long-dead microorganisms, but rather from live, active viruses, they also extracted all the mRNA from the sample. When the DNA sequences that make up genes are activated, they are transcribed into single pieces called mRNA. “These pieces serve as recipes for building the proteins the virus needs. If they are present, the virus is alive,” Perini said.

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“In the total mRNA sequences from the samples we found the same tags as in the total DNA, so we know they were transcribed. This means the viruses are alive and active in the ice.”

Lovell Loxley

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