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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 May 18;101(20):7716-20. Epub 2004 May 3.

The structure of a thermophilic archaeal virus shows a double-stranded DNA viral capsid type that spans all domains of life.

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  • 1Thermal Biology Institute and Department of Microbiology, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT 59717, USA.


Of the three domains of life (Eukarya, Bacteria, and Archaea), the least understood is Archaea and its associated viruses. Many Archaea are extremophiles, with species that are capable of growth at some of the highest temperatures and extremes of pH of all known organisms. Phylogenetic rRNA-encoding DNA analysis places many of the hyperthermophilic Archaea (species with an optimum growth > or = 80 degrees C) at the base of the universal tree of life, suggesting that thermophiles were among the first forms of life on earth. Very few viruses have been identified from Archaea as compared to Bacteria and Eukarya. We report here the structure of a hyperthermophilic virus isolated from an archaeal host found in hot springs in Yellowstone National Park. The sequence of the circular double-stranded DNA viral genome shows that it shares little similarity to other known genes in viruses or other organisms. By comparing the tertiary and quaternary structures of the coat protein of this virus with those of a bacterial and an animal virus, we find conformational relationships among all three, suggesting that some viruses may have a common ancestor that precedes the division into three domains of life >3 billion years ago.

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