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Cannibal virus 'discovered' in Antarctica

world Updated: Apr 12, 2011 12:59 IST

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Scientists claim to have discovered a cannibal virus that "eats its own" and encourage faster growth of the host algae population in Antarctica.

An international team, led by Prof Rick Cavicchioli of University of New South Wales, has found the virus, called Organic Lake Virophage or OLV, in a hypersaline lake near the Davis station in the white continent, the 'Proceedings of the National Academies of Science' journal reported.

The virus is only the third "virophage" discovered. The first one, called Sputnik, was discovered in 2008 and the second one, Mavirus, was discovered earlier this year.

Viruses reproduce by infecting host cells and using cell's molecular machinery to make multiple copies of their own genome and to package these genomes into protein shells. A virophage is different in that it targets a host cell that is already infected by a "regular" virus.

Prof Cavicchioli's team found OLV associated with a group of giant "phycodnaviruses", or PVs, that infect algae and consequently help control algal blooms. Like Sputnik and Mavirus, OLV's genome includes genes that it collected from the Organic Lake phycodnaviruses, confirming the predator-prey relationship.