The global virome: not as big as we thought?

Curr Opin Virol. 2013 Oct;3(5):566-71. doi: 10.1016/j.coviro.2013.07.004. Epub 2013 Jul 26.


Viruses likely infect all organisms, serving to unknown extent as genetic vectors in complex networks of organisms. Environmental virologists have revealed that these abundant nanoscale entities are global players with critical roles in every ecosystem investigated. Curiously, novel genes dominate viral genomes and metagenomes, which has led to the suggestion that viruses represent the largest reservoir of unexplored genetic material on Earth with literature estimates, extrapolating from 14 mycobacteriophage genomes, suggesting that two billion phage-encoded ORFs remain to be discovered. Here we examine (meta)genomic data available in the decade since this provocative assertion, and use 'protein clusters' to evaluate whether sampling technologies have advanced to the point that we may be able to sample 'all' of viral diversity in nature.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Genome, Viral*
  • Humans
  • Metagenome*
  • Virus Diseases / virology*
  • Viruses / genetics*
  • Viruses / isolation & purification