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A Brazilian Samba? It’s a giant virus from the Amazon rainforest

Scientists have found Brazil’s first ever ‘giant virus’ and the largest to date in the country. The virus was in an amoeba from the acidic Rio Negro – ‘Dark River’ – in the Amazon rainforest and has been named the Samba virus. It is thought that Samba plays an important part in the Amazonian ecosystem.

The research is published in the open access Virology Journal. During their investigations the scientists found that Samba is itself infected by a previously undescribed virophage – a mini virus that infects and inhibits other viruses. The researchers from UFMG, Brazil and Aix Marseilles, France, used Electron microscopy and genetic techniques to describe and categorize the Samba virus.

Viruses are small infectious agents that need to grow in living cells to replicate and spread. Giant viruses on the other hand, seem to be less dependent on cells for replication, as their large genomes include genes for replication proteins.

Most known giant viruses infect amoeba and are found in environmental water samples. They are likely to have an important role in the microbial ecology of water, where they infect and kill amoeba, leading them to burst and release nutrients into the environment.

The Samba virus was found by scientists from on a trip along the Rio Negro in 2011. The river’s acidity and dark color are caused by the acids from decomposing plants that rainwater carries into the river. Because the Samba virus is found in this unusual environment, the authors think it could play an important role in this ecosystem.

Jônatas Abrahão, an author on the paper, said: “The Amazon is a very special forest, a symbol of beauty and biodiversity for the Brazilian people and for humankind in general.

“Samba is one more piece in the giant viruses puzzle. It represents a contribution for the understanding of giant viruses in general, regarding not only genomic features, but also raising questions about the ecologic role of giant viruses in the unique biome of the Amazon.”


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Notes to Editor

1. Samba virus: a novel mimivirus from a giant rainforest, the Brazilian Amazon
Rafael K Campos, Paulo V Boratto, Felipe L Assis, Eric RGR Aguiar, Lorena CF Silva, Jonas D Albarnaz, Fabio P Dornas, Giliane S Trindade, Paulo P Ferreira, João T Marques, Catherine Robert, Didier Raoult
Virology Journal 2014, 11:95

Article available at journal website here:

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2. Virology Journal is an open access, peer reviewed journal that considers articles on all aspects of virology, including research on the viruses of animals, plants and microbes. The journal welcomes basic research as well as pre-clinical and clinical studies of novel diagnostic tools, vaccines and anti-viral therapies.

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