#FEMSmicroBlog: Five new environmental viruses discovered in 2022


Viruses are the most abundant biological agents on this planet. Yet, we are far from understanding their full impact on the global ecosystem. Viruses not only have clinical impacts on us, but they also infect other species, like animals, plants and even unicellular organisms. Sarah Wettstadt highlights a few newly discovered viruses found in the environment in 2022 and what we can learn from them. #FascinatingMicrobes


Some viruses like it green

Throughout human history, roses have been a symbol of beauty. Unfortunately, some viruses infect rose plants leading to mosaic or line patterns and ringspot on the plant leaves.

This so-called rose mosaic disease is caused by various viruses and was recently observed on a rose farm in Taiwan. To learn about the disease, researchers sampled various infected rose leaves and detected a total of seven viruses.

Six of them were known rose viruses, while one strain represented a novel virus from the Bromoviridae family. This rose ilarvirus 2 has the highest similarity to Tomato necrotic streak virus, another ilarvirus producing similar symptoms in tomato plants.

While researchers know that ilarviruses can spread by seeds, pollen or insects, it is currently unclear how all of these rose viruses are transmitted between plants at the same time.

Rose mosaic disease. From Chen et al (2022).

In a similar study, researchers investigated strawberry plants showing systemic infection symptoms. These are often caused by umbraviruses that rely on interactions with helper enamoviruses.

Researchers now found a novel strawberry virus A, an umbra-like virus that still requires further classification. Interestingly, strawberry virus A can infect strawberry plants on its own or together with other viruses. Whether these also function as helper viruses in the infection process remains to be investigated.


A virophage protects alga from virus infection

Another study discovered a novel complex alga-virus-virophage system. Researchers found that the micro-green alga Chlorella was infected with a giant virus and a virophage, both of which were not known previously.

The giant Chlorella virus is similar to the Cafeteria roenbergensis virus of the family Mimiviridae. These prey on and infect alga and other protozoa.

On the contrary, the novel Chlorella virus virophage is small and belongs to the Lavidaviridae family. Viruses from this family hijack the replication machinery of the giant virus which also restrains its infection ability. Hence, the virophage protects the host cell and could even function as a new type of defence mechanism.

Alga cell, large green alga virus and virophage. From Sheng et al. (2022).


Novel viruses infecting animals

Well known to many, noroviruses not only infect humans but also animals. Noroviruses from animals and humans are antigenically related but attach to different receptors. Even though this hampers cross-species transmission, a better understanding of viruses from wild animals helps us predict potential threats.

A new study now identified Norovirus in foxes, where the virus does not seem to cause the typical symptoms. Fox Noroviruses are highly similar to canine Noroviruses and distantly related to human Noroviruses.

Even though the host ligands are currently not known, modelling the receptor-binding sites suggests distinct binding affinities. Hence, the possibility of cross-species transmission between foxes and other animals is low but cannot be fully ruled out.

The possibility of cross-species transmission of related viruses is low but existent.

The shrimp industry in Brazil is facing sustainability challenges due to a viral disease caused by the infectious myonecrosis virus. Researchers examined diseased shrimps from the species Penaeus vannamei and found another previously unknown virus.

They isolated a new type species from the relatively new Solinviviridae family that so far only contained two genera. These are viral pathogens infecting the midguts of ants and causing low mortality.

Similarly to other solinviviruses, the new virus called Penaeus vannamei solinvivirus, also infects the gut of its host and causes systemic infections. However, it is currently unclear whether this immune damage or the interaction with the infectious myonecrosis virus causes unusual mortalities in Brazilian shrimp farms.


Welcome to the new viruses in 2022

For the past three years, the whole world looked at certain virus strains that made humans sick. However, also other species on this planet are impacted by virus infections.

While it is often challenging to understand the benefits of a virus infection, these organisms certainly have profound impacts on the planet ecosystem and on evolution. Hence, all of the newly discovered viruses from 2022 can bring us one step closer to fully comprehending the microbial world and its network.


About the author of this blog

headshot of Dr Sarah Wettstadt: science writer and science communicatorDr Sarah Wettstadt is a microbiologist-turned science writer and communicator writing for professional associations and life science organisations. She publishes the blog BacterialWorld to share the beauty of microbes and bacteria, is a content writer for QIAGEN and blog commissioner for the FEMSmicroBlog. Her overall vision is to empower through learning, which is why she founded SciComm Society to coach scientists in science communication. To spark interest in science at a younger age, Sarah coordinates workshops in schools for Native Scientist in Alicante. Previous to her science communication career, she did a PhD at Imperial College London, UK, and a postdoc at the CSIC in Granada, Spain. In her non-science time, Sarah enjoys the sunny beaches in Spain playing beach volleyball or travels the world.

About this blog section

The section #FascinatingMicrobes for the #FEMSmicroBlog explains the science behind a paper and highlights the significance and broader context of a recent finding. One of the main goals is to share the fascinating spectrum of microbes across all fields of microbiology.

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