You bugger: world’s biggest virus found in the ocean

Megavirus particle.

Scientists have discovered the largest virus in the world in the ocean off the coast of Chile.

The Megavirus Chilensis measures around 10 to 20 times the length of the average virus – or about 0.7 micrometers (thousandths of a millimeter) in diameter.

It likely infects single-cell marine amoebas, which float around in the ocean, and was found off Las Cruces, in central Chile during a biology trawl.

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Online news service The Conversation said the virus is slightly bigger than the previous champion-holder, the Mimivirus, which was found in a water tower in Britain back in 1992.

Professor Jean-Michel Claverie, from Aix-Marseille University, in France, was part of the team that made the discovery.

He told the BBC that the Megavirus, whose DNA has more than a thousand genes, is bigger than some bacteria:

You don't need an electron microscope to see it. You can see it with an ordinary light microscope.

Studying the giant virus, the scientists found that it had “hair-like structures”, or fibrils, on the exterior of its shell. The BBC says this likely attract amoebas looking to prey on similar-looking bacteria.

Scientists credit ocean trawls as a new way of studying virology, with previous viruses discovered after they had caused disease in humans, animals and plants.