While scientists labor to find a cure for AIDS, the common cold, and other viruses, researchers in Antarctica have unearthed a life form capable of defeating our most infectious foes. And–surprise!–it’s another virus.
No really–it’s not the pitch for some direct-to-video cheesy sci-fi movie.
The virus, dubbed “Organic Lake Virophage” or OLV, was discovered in the Organic Lake, a 6,000-year-old body of saltwater in eastern Antarctica. Researchers found its genome hidden in sequences of local Phycodnaviruses–giant viruses that basically live in the lake and attack algae. Evidence suggests these two viruses have been swapping genes and co-evolving, and it looks like the OLV actually depends on the Phycodnaviruses for, well, its dinner.
What’s more, although the OLV turns out to be the predominant virophage in the area, scientists believe there may be other virus-eating viruses lurking in the depths.
The good news? Though the notion of a killer life form that cannibalizes members of its own family sounds at best unnerving, the OLV actually helps the ecosystem by making sure there’s enough algae for other critters to eat. If the Phycodnaviruses had their way, they’d consume all the green moss, starving others along the food chain.
The first virophage, Sputnick, was only just discovered in 2008, and scientists have been looking for another large-scale discovery to confirm their findings. The hope is that these living organisms might hold the key to defeating the viruses that attack our own immune systems.