Studies on viruses parasitizing archaea reveal their specific nature and complete the tripartite division of the biosphere, indicating that each of the three domains of life-Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukarya-has its own set of associated DNA viruses. I argue that the remarkable morphotypical diversity of archaea-specific viruses could have originated from diverse viral archetypes that predated the divergence of the three domains of cellular life. It is possible that the descendants of many of these viral archetypes are able to parasitize extant archaea owing to their ability to evade archaea-specific defenses against virus infection, specifically the defenses linked to the evolution of cell envelope structure.
Keywords: archaea; domains of life; virus; virus evolution; virus origin.
© 2015 New York Academy of Sciences.