Viruses in close associations with free-living amoebae

Parasitol Res. 2015 Nov;114(11):3959-67. doi: 10.1007/s00436-015-4731-5. Epub 2015 Sep 16.


As both groups of organisms, free-living amoebae (FLA) and viruses, can be found in aquatic environments side by side, it appears obvious that there are multiple interactions with respect to host-endocytobiont relationships. Several relationships between viruses and protozoan hosts are described and it was the discovery of the so called "giant viruses," associated with amoebae, which gave another dimension to these interactions. Mimiviruses, Pandoraviruses and Pithoviruses are examples for interesting viral endocytobionts within FLA. In the Mimivirus viral factories, viral DNA undergoes replication and transcription, and the DNA is prepared to be packed in procapsids. Theses Mimivirus factories can be considered as efficient "production lines" where, at any given moment, all stages of viral generation including membrane biogenesis, capsid assembly and genome encapsidation, are occurring concomitantly. There are some hints that similar replication factories are involved as well during the Pandoravirus development. Some scientists favour the assumption that the giant viruses have received many of their genes from their hosts or from sympatric occurring endocytobionts via lateral gene transfer. This hypothesis would mean that this type of transfer has been an important process in the evolution of genomes in the context of the intracellular parasitic or endocytobiotic lifestyle. In turn, that would migitate against hypothesizing development of a new branch in the tree of life. Based on the described scenarios to explain the presence of genes related to translation, it is also possible that earlier ancestors of today's DNA viruses were involved in the origin of eukaryotes. That possibly could in turn support the idea that cellular organisms could have evolved from viruses with growing autarkic properties. In future we expect the discovery of further (giant) viruses within free-living amoebae and other protozoa through genomic, transcriptomic and proteomic analyses.

Keywords: Acanthamoeba; Endocytobiont; Free living amoebae; Mimivirus; Pandoravirus; Pithovirus; Viruses.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amoeba / ultrastructure
  • Amoeba / virology*
  • Biological Evolution
  • Cytoplasm / virology
  • DNA Viruses / genetics*
  • DNA Viruses / ultrastructure
  • Genome, Viral / genetics*
  • Mimiviridae / genetics
  • Phylogeny