Scientists from Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology (TUAT) discovered a strange new virus while scattering through pig feces, and one of the outcomes of the analysis was truly shocking: the virus has the potential to rewrite how we categorize what viruses are and what harm can they do to the world.
Viruses are fundamentally different from other structures like bacteria because they don’t have cells. In fact, it’s hard to tell if viruses are even alive or not, and this has been a subject of debate for scientists. Despite all this, a scientific definition for viruses do exist: they are nucleic acids surrounded by a protein layer that can infect cells and once inside, they start replicating themselves.
The new virus doesn’t have structural proteins
Surprisingly enough, the virus discovered in the pig feces defies the above definition, according to the Japanese scientists.
“The recombinant virus we found in this study has no structural proteins,” says virologist Tetsuya Mizutani from TUAT. “This means the recombinant virus cannot make a viral particle.”
The virus is a type of enterovirus G (EV-G), which belongs to the family of Picornaviridae. It’s true that this isn’t the only type of EV-G found by scientists, but it surely is the most awkward one. It has unknown flanking genes instead of the viral structural proteins.
Thus, the new virus called EV-G type 2 shouldn’t exist at all, because it’s not able of invading a host cell on its own. But still, it exists and baffles the minds of scientists.
EV-G type 2 might exploit a helper virus
The team of scientists invoked a theory to explain the anomaly: the EV-G type 2 virus might exploit another virus which could lend viral structural proteins to advantage the dissemination process.
“Because the type 1 recombinant EV-G was detected in the same faeces 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,” one of the researchers involved explained.
Does the new virus pose any threat to us humans? Can it be spread in order to get us alarmed? Unfortunately, we don’t know for sure yet, but it’s most likely it cannot be spread since it’s unable of infecting cells. We can only hope that further research will provide us some irrefutable answers.
The findings have been reported in “Infection, Genetics and Evolution”.