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Researchers Discover First Examples of ‘Vampire Viruses’ in U.S. Soil Samples

Researchers Discover First Examples of ‘Vampire Viruses’ in U.S. Soil Samples

These fascinating viruses may hold the key to new antiviral therapies.

Researchers are now reporting that for the first time, they have observed ‘vampire viruses,’ pathogens that latch onto other viruses to replicate themselves.

Though theoretically possible, the reality was recently unearthed in US soil samples.

Strange ‘vampire viruses’ have cropped up in soil samples in Maryland and Missouri in a scientific first.

The existence of these viruses has been known to researchers for decades — but until know, it’s been a theoretical situation, not an actual one.

However, in recent days, a team at University of Maryland, Baltimore County [UMBC] and Washington University in St. Louis have isolated the vampire species, which are caused when a bacteriophage latches onto a soil-based virus’s neck and uses its “life” to survive on its own.

UMBC biologist Tagide deCarvalho, the study’s lead author, said: “When I saw it, I was like, ‘I can’t believe this.

“‘No one has ever seen a bacteriophage – or any other virus– attach to another virus.”‘

The team of researchers in Maryland watched this interaction that involves a ‘satellite’ and ‘helper’ virus.

The strain of bacteriophage, a type of virus that infects bacteria, latched onto a soil-borne virus’s ‘neck’ – the place where the capsid joins the tail of the virus.

…The viral relationship of two pathogens is called a satellite and helper.

The satellite is the infectious strand that relies on the helper for support through its life cycle.

The team studied a sample of satellite bacteriophage (a virus that infects bacterial cells), including a species of Streptomyces bacterium (the helper) found in soil.

However, the bacteriophage typically has a gene for integration and does not directly attach to its helper.

The satellite in UMBC’s sample, named MiniFlayer by the students who isolated it, is the first known case of a satellite with no gene for integration.

Because it cannot integrate into the host cell’s DNA, it must be near its helper—named MindFlayer—every time it enters a host cell if it is going to survive.

Ivan Erill, professor of Biological Sciences, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, explains why the relationship described in this research is vampire-like in its actions:

MiniFlayer is the first satellite phage known to have lost its ability to lie dormant. Not being able to lie in wait for your helper to enter the cell poses an important challenge to a satellite phage. If you need another virus to replicate, how do you guarantee that it makes it into the cell around the same time you do?

MiniFlayer addressed this challenge with evolutionary aplomb and horror-movie creativity. Instead of lying in wait, MiniFlayer has gone on the offensive. Borrowing from both “Dracula” and “Alien,” this satellite phage evolved a short appendage that allows it to latch onto its helper’s neck like a vampire. Together, the unwary helper and its passenger travel in search of a new host, where the viral drama will unfold again. We don’t yet know how MiniFlayer subdues its helper, or whether MindFlayer has evolved countermeasures.

If the recent pandemic has taught us anything, it is that our supply of antivirals is rather limited. Research on the complex, intertwined and at times predatory nature of viruses and their satellites, like the ability of MiniFlayer to attach to its helper’s neck, has the potential to open new avenues for antiviral therapy.

This possibility of having new and effective antiviral therapies is exciting. Here’s hoping that future research involving these viruses and all others is conducted responsibly with adequate biosafety precautions and free from the influence of megalomaniacs.

This video provides a great summary of how bacteriophages normally behave.


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Oh great virus to combat viruses. What could possibly go wrong?

Somewhere, Fauci smiles.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair | November 8, 2023 at 5:56 pm

I don’t see where the “vampire” modifier applies. This is more of a leech virus. Or a welfare virus. It has nothing to do with vampires, save the one silly reference to the “neck” of the host virus. But vampires don’t “attach” themselves to anyone’s neck for any period of time. In fact, vampires can’t hang on a neck too long, at all.

I think they figured that calling this a “vampire virus” would be good PR and get them more money for research .. maybe even better job offers. There is nothing “vampire-like” about this virus.

I call it a “welfare virus”.

    With all due respect, since there aren’t any such things as vampires, we can make up any features or rules or studies that we want. After all, the vampires of page and screen are totally imaginary. And in my imagination, Frank Langella as Dracula can hold on to my neck just as long as he wants!

      ThePrimordialOrderedPair in reply to CincyJan. | November 9, 2023 at 12:40 am

      Yes … vampires are make-believe, but the mythical characters still have certain attributes and characteristics. Vampires, while make-believe, are not like turtles or tulips. Vampires are associated with blood-sucking, mostly, and an inability to live in light. There are other aspects of vampires … but these viruses seem to satisfy none of them. The only connection that might possibly exist for the naming is the idea that the part of the virus they hang onto can somewhat be called a “neck”.

      As I said, it’s a real stretch to attach the “vampire” description to these viruses and I am convinced they only did it for the publicity.

Seems like a great new candidate for Wuhan gain of function research.

Viruses have necks?

He may apply plagues with intent that only He knows…but I’ll be doggone if man isn’t going to exploit the event.

Leslie Eastman, I very much appreciate your posts.

Zombie apocalypse here we come

All kinds of good stuff coming out of that virology hotbed called Wuhan.

“This possibility of having new and effective antiviral therapies is exciting.”
Yuh, reading the headline of this article, I felt nothing but joy and excitement.

Bacteriophages were an area of huge research from the 1920s until the 1940s, when all research stopped in favor of using molds to combat bacteria. When abandoned, it was thought that infectious bacterial disease was but a few years of being tamed.
The fact is this country has failed over and over again to continue promising research in one area because another shows more immediate reward. Serious research dollars into phage research would have led to results decades ago. To this day the lack of money in electromagnetics, metallurgy,
gaseous chemistry etc. cripple our science fields.
These fields have one thing in common. A remarkable difference in the text book expectations and the real world results. The difference is so vast in some fields like gaseous chemistry and physics that the text book formulae are unused in industry as being too far off.
We need science pushed in these fields. No political propaganda.
More money is spent in a single year on a climate global warming hoax than in all the 3 fields I mention here.

    henrybowman in reply to puhiawa. | November 9, 2023 at 2:38 am

    The hollow cackling you hear is the ghost of Nikola Tesla.

      puhiawa in reply to henrybowman. | November 9, 2023 at 1:14 pm

      Exactly… researchers today reopen studies into Tesla’s hypothesis that ambient electromagnetic energy may be utilized for low power communications devices that can be boosted to long ranges by multiple conrtacts

Funny typo in the quoted article:

We don’t yet know how MiniFlayer subdues its helper, or whether MindFlayer has evolved countermeasures.

So these viruses eat brains then? Or are they from the Upside-Down?

E Howard Hunt | November 9, 2023 at 7:44 am

The Russians have beat us to it with the Sputnik V COVID vaccine.

Oh shit!
Honey, take the kids to the basement while I bolt the doors.
Scientists are playing with viruses again!!!