NPR

In Giant Virus Genes, Hints About Their Mysterious Origin

They're the Godzillas of the virus world, pushing the limit of what is considered alive. Researchers are trying to figure out where they came from. (And no, they aren't known to make people sick.)
In 2003, Acanthamoeba polyphaga mimivirus, also known as mimivirus, was the first giant virus to be described. It's larger than many bacteria, and was found in a water sample from a hospital cooling tower in England. Source: Didier Raoult/Science Source

Viruses are supposed to be tiny and simple — so tiny and simple that it's debatable whether they're even alive.

They're minimalist packets of genetic information, relying entirely on the cells the infect in order to survive and reproduce.

But in 2003, researchers identified a new kind of virus that that turned scientific understanding of viruses upside down, and tested the boundary of what can be considered life.

Mimiviruses, as they're called, are so big and cell-like that samples of them sat on a laboratory shelf for years because scientists assumed they just contained regular old bacteria.

Now, researchers writing in the journal Science say they

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