Certain Archaea Freeze in Place and Go Dormant When Confronted by Viruses

The microbes could surrender to the harmless virus, but instead they freeze in place, dormant, waiting for their potential predator to go away, according to a study published online on March 31, 2015 in mBio. The article is entitled "Virus-Induced Dormancy in Archaeon Sulfolobus islandicus." University of Illinois researchers found that Sulfolobus islandicus organisms can go dormant, ceasing to grow and reproduce, in order to protect themselves from infection by Sulfolobus spindle-shaped virus 9 (SSV9). The dormant microbes are able to recover if the virus goes away within 24 to 48 hours--otherwise they die. "The microbe is hedging its bet," said Associate Professor of Microbiology Rachel Whitaker, who led the research at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. "If they go dormant, they might die, but we think this must be better than getting infected and passing it on." Sulfolobus islandicus is a species of archaea (a domain of single-celled organisms distinct from bacteria) found in acidic hot springs (photo) all over the world, where free viruses are not as common as in other environments. These microbes will go dormant in the presence of just a few viruses, whether active or inactive. While inactivated virus particles cannot infect a host, Dr. Whitaker's lab found they could still cause dormancy, and ultimately, death in Sulfolobus islandicus. "People thought these inactivated viruses were just an accident, that they were just mispackaged," Dr. Whitaker said. "Now we know they are being sensed by the host so they are having an effect.
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