Large Viruses Might Clarify The Mysterious Evolution of a Key A part of Our Cells

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Our cells nonetheless maintain tightly onto many secrets and techniques about their origins. However lately found large viruses might maintain clues to 1 such secret – the mysterious emergence of a cell’s principal retailer of directions, the nucleus.


The presence of a nucleus distinguishes our eukaryotic cells from different mobile life types. Micro organism and archaea have a tendency to easily have a big loop or open stretch of DNA floating free of their mobile juices.

Extra advanced life, like vegetation and animals, retailer their genetic materials neatly wound round proteins known as histones, tucked away in their very own mobile compartment, a specialised organelle we name the nucleus.

So how did the majority of our blueprints get saved in their very own little unit? 

In 2019, Tokyo College virologist Masaharu Takemura and colleagues found a large virus that might drive a hijacked amoeba (Acanthamoeba castellanii) cell to type a tough shell-like casing round itself. They named it medusavirus, after the legendary protectress that might flip folks to stone.

Now Takemura has proposed a brand new speculation on the evolution of the nucleus involving these bits of protein-packaged DNA, in a evaluation of the present scientific literature. 

As with many issues in biology, this hypothetical course of is each messy and complex, however Takemura thinks it might have gone down one thing like this.


Early eukaryotic cells with unbound DNA have been contaminated by large viruses. These viruses made use of a cell’s cytoplasmic membrane, drawing it round tight to guard the viral replication course of inside the cell.

Over time, the host cell did the identical for its DNA to assist defend it from viral assault, whereas additionally evolving the genes for histones that made their DNA extra compact – genes now additionally discovered within the viral DNA.

(Takemura, Frontiers in Microbiology, 2020)

Similarities between the membranes that viruses use to duplicate inside cells, and our nucleus membranes, led researchers to suspect “our ancestral cells devised a viral-like technique to guard its genome in opposition to the assault of viruses.”

The medusavirus would not make its personal bubble to duplicate inside, like different viruses reminiscent of polio do. As an alternative, it finds its method into the cell’s nucleus and makes use of the host’s equipment to duplicate. Thus, each the viral and host genome can co-exist throughout replication.

However the medusavirus does have histone and DNA polymerase genes similar to its amoeba hosts, suggesting these genes transferred between the viral genome and the host. 


This DNA switch between virus and eukaryotic cells possible went the opposite method, too. Researchers imagine the amoeba acquired genes for the most important capsid protein from the virus.

“I speculate that a portion of viral DNA replication might have aided host genome replication and proved evolutionarily advantageous,” Takemura wrote.

The unusually massive quantities of genetic materials of large viruses, like poxviruses, code for greater than 400 proteins. A few of these embody proteins discovered additionally in eukaryotes, just like the protein that caps messenger RNA however is just not present in micro organism or archaea.

Molecular evaluation of poxvirus DNA polymerase has additionally discovered it’s carefully associated to eukaryotic DNA polymerase.

There are nonetheless many components of this speculation that want testing, Takemura factors out. But it surely does align with the main idea of nucleus evolution – that nuclear membranes got here from the inside membrane of early eukaryotic cells – and it helps to elucidate a number of the processes that will have been concerned.

“This new up to date speculation can profoundly influence the research of eukaryotic cell origins and supply a foundation for additional dialogue on the involvement of viruses within the evolution of the eukaryotic nucleus,” Takemura stated.

This analysis was printed in Frontiers in Microbiology.




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