Getting sick and tired of Covid-19? While it is still important to mask up and practice social distancing, the distribution of vaccines offers hope that even if the world has changed forever, there will be a return to at least some sense of normalcy in the near future. In the meantime, since we’re on the topic of viruses, why not take a few minutes to enjoy this list of 15 facts about viruses you might not know? We’ve got 15 of them to satisfy your thirst for knowledge!
1. Virus comes from the Latin word that refers to poison and other liquids that cause sickness. Considering how it makes us feel when we have a serious flu or cold, it makes perfect sense.
2. Viruses are not considered living organisms. Unlike plants, animals and other things considered alive, they are not made up of cells, do not convert a food source into energy, and do not function without a host.
3. Nonetheless, viruses do have certain characteristics that are consistent with living things, such as the ability to evolve through natural selection and reproduce. They contain genes as well.
4. Up until the late 19th century, it was assumed that every disease or condition was the result of bacteria, but a Russian microbiologist named Dmitry Ivanovsky argued that an infection that had inflicted tobacco plants must have come from something smaller. This was confirmed when he discovered the tobacco mosaic virus.
5. Another way in which some viruses behave like living things is the way in which they insert their DNA into a bacterium: through the pilus, a long tube that is akin to the male genitalia. Can somebody please explain how that isn’t proof that viruses are alive?
6. In 1992 when attempting to determine the source of a pneumonia outbreak in England, scientists discovered a new, gigantic type of virus in a cooling tower that was using an amoeba as a host. The size was so great and its composition so sophisticated that they initially thought it was a bacterium. It is now known as the mimivirus.
7. The Mimivirus is the 4th largest genetically sequenced virus. French biologist Didier Raoult gave it its name due to the way it mimics bacteria and as a tribute to his father, who had referred to it as “Mimi the Amoeba.” Consequently, Raoult caused some controversy in 2020 when he promoted Hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for Covid based on a faulty study.
8. The genome length of the mimivirus is 1,181,549 and it contains 979 proteins. The main reason why it was originally mistaken for a bacterium is because it’s actually so much larger than many of them.
9. An even larger virus — known as mamavirus — is closely related to mimivirus. Much like its smaller cousin, it was discovered inside an amoeba and in a cooling tower, this time in Paris. What’s the deal with these cooling towers and their huge viruses?
10. Why are amoebas such a good source to find these big viruses. It turns out, they are known for swallowing large things and as a result make a great highout place for viruses and bacteria to mix their genetic material.
11. Viruses can cause misery for all living things whether it’s an animal, plant, fungi, protozoa, archaea or bacteria. But it turns out that based on what scientists have observed with mamavirus, viruses can even infect other viruses.
12. But viruses aren’t all bad. In fact, we literally wouldn’t be who we are without them! Half of all human DNA originated from viruses. Over the course of thousands of years, our ancestors were infected by viruses that embedded themselves in their sperm and egg cells. Going back even further, a virus may have camped out in a bacteria more than a billion years ago, resulting in all life that followed. In other words, we all probably descended from a virus.
13. Although most of the viruses that messed around with our ancestors are extinct these days, in 2005 researchers in France sought to resurrect one of them. Some scientists weren’t too sure about that idea, fearing that the virus could wreck havoc or even trigger the apocalypse. But the French government ministry responsible for approving these things gave it the green light.
14. Ultimately, the virus, dubbed Phoenix, turned out to be a bust.
15. It is commonly believed that these viral relics in our genes might explain why we are susceptible to certain cancers and autoimmune conditions. On the other hand, some of these viral proteins are vital for our existence. For example, they might prevent a mother’s immune system from rejecting the cells that ultimately become a fetus.