Archive for April 30th, 2012

An examination of the bacteriophages and bacteria of the Namib desert

30 April, 2012

See on Scoop.itVirology News and here

“Bacteria and their viruses (called bacteriophages, or phages), have been found in virtually every ecological niche on Earth. Arid regions, including their most extreme form called deserts, represent the single largest ecosystem type on the Earth’s terrestrial surface. The Namib desert is believed to be the oldest (80 million years) desert. We report here an initial analysis of bacteriophages isolated from the Namib desert using a combination of electron microscopy and genomic approaches. The virus-like particles observed by electron microscopy revealed 20 seemingly different phage-like morphologies and sizes belonging to the Myoviridae and Siphoviridae families of tailed phages. Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis revealed a majority of phage genomes of 55-65 kb in length, with genomes of approximately 200, 300, and 350 kb also observable. Sample sequencing of cloned phage DNA fragments revealed that approximately 50% appeared to be of bacterial origin. Of the remaining DNA sequences, approximately 50% displayed no significant match to any sequence in the databases. The majority of the 16S rDNA sequences amplified from DNA extracted from the sand displayed considerable (94-98%) homology to members of the Firmicutes, and in particular to members of the genus Bacillus, though members of the Bacteroidetes, Planctomycetes, Chloroflexi, and delta-Proteobacteria groups were also observed.”

This serves as a neat, if slightly dated, little introduction to my latest endeavour – and an account of a field trip this last week into the Namib Desert.

I was fortunate enough some time ago to have been invited by Don Cowan, presently of University of Pretoria, to accompany his team to the Gobabeb Research and Training Centre inland of Walvis Bay, in Namibia’s Namib Desert.  They work on extremophiles, and the Namib is a great environment for mining bugs that can withstand high salt and temperatures and severe desiccation – oh, and photosynthesise underground, hiding under semi-tranlucent quartz rocks embedded in the surface soil.  The thinking was that, given my long-time interest in viral diversity and newly-acquired means to do oceanic viromics, I would be interested and even of some help.

And so it has come to pass: I will have my very own hypolith (=rock-colonising blue-green algae) scrapings and the result of diafiltration and concentration of washings of a good few kilos of red dune sand to play with as far as virus genome sequencing and even EM and analytical centrifugation go.

Typical quartz-associated hypolith

We will have fun in the coming months…that, and we will obviously HAVE to go back to Gobabeb, to further investigate whatever it is we find.  A terrible, harsh place, but SOMEONE has to go there…B-)

Nothing beside remains...boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away
PB Shelley, Ozymandias

Env-less endogenous retroviruses are genomic superspreaders

30 April, 2012

See on Scoop.itVirology News

Endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) differ from typical retroviruses in being inherited through the host germline and therefore are a unique combination of pathogen and selfish genetic element. Some ERV lineages proliferate by infecting germline cells, as do typical retroviruses, whereas others lack the env gene required for virions to enter cells and thus behave like retrotransposons. We wished to know what factors determined the relative abundance of different ERV lineages, so we analyzed ERV loci recovered from 38 mammal genomes by in silico screening. By modeling the relationship between proliferation and replication mechanism in detail within one group, the intracisternal A-type particles (IAPs), and performing simple correlations across all ERV lineages, we show that when ERVs lose the env gene their proliferation within that genome is boosted by a factor of ∼30. We also show that ERV abundance follows the Pareto principle or 20/80 rule, with ∼20% of lineages containing 80% of the loci. This rule is observed in many biological systems, including infectious disease epidemics, where commonly ∼20% of the infected individuals are responsible for 80% of onward infection. We thus borrow simple epidemiological and ecological models and show that retrotransposition and loss of env is the trait that leads endogenous retroviruses to becoming genomic superspreaders that take over a significant proportion of their host’s genome.


I love it: retroviruses that choose to spread WITHIN a cell’s genome, rather than between cells.  Safe little niche, as long as it keeps dividing!

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