Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Secret Lies in Caribou Poop

How relevant! This past problem set in Humans and Viruses asked us to discuss molecular viroarcheology – the very tool used to piece together a previously unknown virus. As was the case in Johan Hultin’s seroarchelogy success, freezing conditions allowed for the isolation of the viral sample in the recently published study, “Preservation of viral genomes in 700-year-old caribou feces from a subarctic ice patch.” These conditions can preserve the encapsidated nucleic acids for up to several centuries. A complete DNA viral genome and a partial RNA viral genome was identified in 700-year-old caribou feces buried beneath the ice, and reverse genetic methods allowed for sequencing and recreation of the viral DNA genome. The suspect DNA virus is found to resemble geminiviruses, which infect plants, and thus, the virus likely entered the caribou’s system at some point in its herbivore diet. The team’s proposed future direction for this data is to feed molecular genetics the viral genome in order to regenerate the live virus and study its biology. It’s an incredibly cool next step in science, but could it be dangerous? Should we bring a virus out of extinction if we know little about its pathogenicity, route of transmission, or host range? That’s food for thought.  

- Emma Rastatter

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