Scientists have isolated the largest virus yet discovered from ocean water pulled up off the coast of Chile.
Called Megavirus chilensis, it is 10 to 20 times longer than the average virus.
It just beats the previous record holder, Mimivirus, which was found in a water cooling tower in the UK in 1992.
Scientists reported in the journal PNAS that Megavirus probably infects amoebas, single-celled organisms that are floating free in the sea.
The particle measures about 0.7 micrometers in diameter.
“It is bigger than some bacteria,” Professor Jean-Michel Claverie, from Aix-Marseille University, Marseille, France, told BBC News.
“You don’t need an electron microscope to see it; you can see it with an ordinary light microscope,” he said.
Like Mimivirus, Megavirus has hair-like structures, or fibrils, on the exterior of its shell, or capsid, that probably attract unsuspecting amoebas looking to prey on bacteria displaying similar features.
A study of the giant virus’s DNA reveals it to have over a thousand genes, the biochemical instructions it uses to build the systems it requires to replicate once inside its host.
Megavirus was found off the coast of Las Cruces, central Chile. It was recovered as part of a general trawl in the ocean for biology of interest.