IIT researchers discover ‘giant viruses’ in Mumbai water bodies

IIT researchers discover 'giant viruses' in Mumbai water bodies
The detection of these giant viruses in the city’s water bodies is not a cause of concern as of now since researchers are yet to ascertain if they can carry diseases or infect humans (Representational Image)

A study by researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IIT-B) has found the presence of ‘giant viruses’ in samples collected from various water bodies in Mumbai.

According to a release by IIT-B, the study was conducted by a team led by Professor Kiran Kondabgil and is the first documented report about giant viruses from India.

The study was funded by the Department of Biotechnology, Department of Science & Technology, IIT-B; and the Novozymes and Holck-Larsen Foundation. Its findings were published in the journal, ‘Scientific Reports’.

Typically, genome sizes of viruses range from a few thousand to about 2,00,000 base pairs. However, giant viruses have a genome size as massive as a few million base pairs.

“It found viruses belonging to the families Pandoraviridae, Phycodnaviridae, Mimiviridae, Iridoviridae, and Megaviridae. Five families of giant viruses were found in these samples, all of which infect amoeba,” the study said.

The researchers sequenced the genome of four giant viruses belonging to the families Mimiviridae, Megaviridae, and Marseilleviridae.

“Interestingly, some genes of the giant viruses from Mumbai were similar to those of giant viruses discovered in other continents. This might indicate that such genes play important roles in these viruses,” it added.

The researchers also studied the role of ‘PrimPol’ protein, which is synthesised by a giant virus named Acanthamoeba polyphaga mimivirus and plays a role in almost all the steps beginning from making DNA and RNA to their final processing.

The discovery of the first giant virus was thought of as an isolated case, Prof Kondabagil stated, adding that further studies showed that these viruses are present everywhere and in large numbers.

“Our findings from India and those from other studies suggest that they are present in almost all types of environment,” the professor said.

The newly discovered giant virus species reportedly include Bandra megavirus (BMV), Powai lake megavirus (PLMV), Mimivirus bombay (MVB) and Kurlavirus (KUV).

However, the detection of these giant viruses in the city’s water bodies is not a cause of concern as of now since researchers are yet to study them and ascertain if they carry any diseases or are capable of infecting humans.

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