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Never-before-seen GIANT virus found that’s so unusual it may have come from Mars

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By  Emma Innes

PUBLISHED: 04:53 EST, 19  July 2013 |  UPDATED: 10:41 EST, 19 July 2013

Scientists have found a new virus thought to  be the biggest ever seen on Earth.

The virus, dubbed Pandoravirus, is one micrometre big – up to ten times the size of  other viruses – and only six per cent of its genes resemble anything seen on  Earth before.

This has led French researchers to believe  the virus may have come from an ancient time or even another planet, such as  Mars.


Scientists have found a new virus, Pandoravirus  (pictured), which is the biggest ever seen on Earth. It is found underwater and  is not thought to pose a serious risk to humans


Pandoravirus lives underwater and was found  off the coast of Chile and in a pond in Australia.

It is thought to have emerged from a new  ancestral cellular type that no longer exists.

It is about one micrometre meaning it is big  enough to be seen under a normal microscope.

The virus lacks the regular shape normally  associated with viruses.

Its genetic code is twice the size of the  Megavirus, the biggest virus previously found.

Only six per cent of its genes resemble genes  seen before on Earth.

The giant virus is only found underwater and  is not thought to pose a serious risk to humans.



However, the researchers, who published their  findings in the journal Science,  believe that the virus opens up a range of  questions about the history  of life on Earth.

Dr Jean-Michel Claverie of Aix-Marseille  University in France, who found the virus, told NPR: ‘We  believe that these new Pandoraviruses have emerged from a new ancestral cellular  type that no longer exists.’

Many traditional viruses range in size from  around 10 nanometres (nm) to around 500nm.

The Pandoravirus is around one micrometre big  and there are 1,000nm in a micrometre.

This means the Pandoravirus is big enough to  be seen under the most basic microscopes.

Dr Claverie explained that because the virus  is very big and lacks the regular shape normally associated with viruses, he  initially thought it was a small bacterium.

His team went on a hunt for giant viruses  after a survey identified signs of them in seawater.


The scientists who found the Pandoravirus believe that  it could have originated on Mars. Only six per cent of its genes resemble genes  seen before in other organisms on Earth

They took sediment samples from the coast off  Chile and from a pond in Australia.

They took the samples to their  laboratory  and put them in a solution packed with antibiotics in an  attempt to kill any  bacteria present.


The Megavirus, pictured, was previously thought to have  been the biggest virus on Earth at 440nm – half the size of the new  Pandoravirus

These bacteria-free samples were then exposed  to amoebas knowing that if they died, there must be something else in the  samples killing them.

This proved to be successful and large  amounts of Pandoravirus were spawned.

When the team studied them they found that  their genetic code was twice the size of the Megavirus, which was previously the  biggest virus ever found at around 440nm.

However, they were in for more of a shock as  only six per cent of its genes resembled genes seen before in other organisms on  Earth.

Dr Claverie told NPR: ‘We believe that those  new Pandoraviruses have emerged from a new ancestral cellular type that no  longer exists.’

He went on to explain that it is possible  that they have come from another planet, such as Mars.

The researchers do not yet know why this  cellular form became a virus but they speculate that it could have evolved as a  survival strategy.

Alternatively, its unusual genome could have  developed as a result of it picking up genetic material from its  hosts.

The researchers say that they now expect to  find more giant viruses.

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