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Oh good, there’s a new virus in Brazil that scientists can’t even recognize

Updated Feb 12th, 2020 9:50AM EST
new virus
Image: Oleksiy Maksymenko/imageBROKER/Shutterstock

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Researchers in Brazil have discovered an entirely new kind of virus that is so foreign to science that not even its genes have been previously identified. The virus, which is described in a new research paper, was found in a Brazilian lake in the city of Belo Horizonte.

As ScienceAlert reports, the virus has been named Yaravirus in honor of a Brazilian mythological figure known as “Iara,” and it’s posing an exciting challenge for researchers who are working to better understand its genome. The virus doesn’t qualify as a “giant virus,” which the international research team has discovered before, but it’s still incredibly unique.

“Here we describe Yaravirus, an entity that could represent either the first isolated virus of Acanthamoeba spp. out of the group of NCLDVs or, in alternative evolutive scenario, it is a distant and extremely reduced virus of this group,” the researchers write.

“Contrary to what is observed in other isolated viruses of amoeba, Yaravirus is not represented by a large/giant particle and a complex genome, but at the same time carries an important number of previously undescribed genes, including one encoding a novel major capsid protein. Metagenomic approaches also testified for the rarity of Yaravirus in the environment.”

Finding new viruses is exciting for researchers, but finding one that bears almost no resemblance to any previously-studied virus is indeed quite rare.

With all the hype surrounding the coronavirus scare, you’d be forgiven for seeing the discovery of such a new and unique virus as potentially troubling. Thankfully that doesn’t appear to be the case. Only a relatively small percentage of viruses are actually dangerous to humans in any form. We have no reason to believe Yaravirus is any different, but it does present a unique opportunity for scientists to add to their knowledge of virus genomes.