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Annu Rev Genet. 2009;43:49-66. doi: 10.1146/annurev-genet-102108-134255.

Mimivirus and its virophage.

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Structural and Genomic Information Laboratory, CNRS-UPR 2589, IFR-88, Aix-Marseille University, Parc Scientifique de Luminy, Case 934, FR-13288 Marseille, France.


Mimivirus, a virus infecting amoebae of the acanthamoeba genus, is the prototype member of the Mimiviridae, the latest addition to the family of the nucleocytoplasmic large DNA viruses, already including the Poxviridae, the Iridoviridae, the Asfarviridae, and the Phycodnaviridae. Because of the size of its particle-a fiber-covered icosahedral protein capsid 0.75 microm in diameter-Mimivirus was initially mistaken for a parasitic bacterium. Its 1.2-Mb genome sequence encodes more than 900 proteins, many of them associated with functions never before encountered in a virus, such as four aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases. These findings revived the debate about the origin of DNA viruses and their possible role in the emergence of the eukaryotic nucleus. The recent isolation of a new type of satellite virus, called a virophage, associated with a second strain of Mimivirus, confirmed its unique position within the virus world. Post-genomic studies are now in progress, slowly shedding some light on the physiology of the most complex virus isolated to date.

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