Science 3 min read

Scientists Discover New Virus With no Structural Proteins

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Scientists in Japan have discovered a new virus that complicates how we define viruses and what they can do.

Living organisms generally fall within three domains of life – Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukaryota. Viruses, on the other hand, have always been fundamentally different because they don’t have cells.

This lack of cellular anatomy has made it challenging for scientists to classify viruses from a biological perspective. Even the question of whether viruses are alive or dead remains a topic for discussion in the scientific community until today.

Despite these debates, researchers have a general agreement on what constitutes a virus. It’s a particle that contains genetic material encased within a protective protein that replicates only inside living cells of an organism – or is it?

The researchers from the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology (TUAT) have recently uncovered a new virus that defies this interpretation.

In a statement to the press, a virologist at TUAT, Tetsuya Mizutani said:

“The recombinant virus we found in this study has no structural proteins. This means the recombinant virus cannot make a viral particle.”

The TUAT team discovered the virus while sifting through pig feces. It’s a type of enterovirus G (EV-G) which belongs to the family of Picornaviridae.

EV-G Type 2: A New Virus that That Should Not Exist

Scientists have identified many types of EV-G in the past. However, according to the researchers, this discovery, called EV-G type 2, is a bit different.

It has a “novel defective” variant with unknown flanking genes in place of the viral structural proteins that are usually present in EV-G viruses.

That means the new virus can’t invade a host cell on its own, and therefore cannot replicate itself.

So, how does it exist at all?

Well, the TUAT team suggested in their paper that a “helper virus” could have helped with the propagation process. It could lend viral structural protein to enable the defective recombinant EV- G disseminate itself.

After analyzing the pig feces, the researchers detected similar amounts of type 1 and type 2 recombinant EV-G genomes, which further supports the hypothesis.

The researchers noted:

“Because the type 1 recombinant EV-G was detected in the same feces sample as the new type 2 recombinant EV-G, this type 1 recombinant EV-G, which belongs to [a] different subtype, might have served as the helper virus.”

If this is the case, how does the process occur? And if this is not the case, how is the EV-G type 2 replicating?

According to Mizutani, further research is necessary to answer these questions.

We are wondering how this new virus came to be, how it infects cells, or how it develops a viral particle. Our future work will be on solving this mystery of viral evolution,” Mizutani said.

Read More: Scientists Discover Thousands of Virus Species Hidden in the Ocean

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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