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Trends Genet. 2010 Oct;26(10):431-7. doi: 10.1016/j.tig.2010.07.003. Epub 2010 Aug 7.

Mimivirus: the emerging paradox of quasi-autonomous viruses.

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Structural and Genomic Information Laboratory, CNRS-UPR 2589, Aix-Marseille University, Mediterranean Institute of Microbiology, Parc Scientifique de Luminy, Case 934, 13288 Marseille Cedex 9, France.


What is a virus? Are viruses alive? Should they be classified among microorganisms? One would expect these simple questions to have been settled a century after the discovery of the first viral disease. For years, modern virology successfully unravelled the huge diversity of viruses in terms of genetic material, replication mechanism, pathogenicity, host infection, and more recently particle structure, planet-wide distribution and ecological significance. Yet, little progress was made in understanding their evolutionary origin(s), as well as the fundamental nature of their relationship with the cellular world. Thanks to the recent studies on Mimivirus and other large DNA viruses, we are now entering a new era where the most basic concepts about viruses are revisited, including their true nature, how fundamentally different they are from cellular microorganisms, and how essential they might have been in the major innovations that punctuated the evolution of life.

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