Viruses of archaea represent one of the most enigmatic parts of the virosphere. Most of the characterized archaeal viruses infect extremophilic hosts and display remarkable diversity of virion morphotypes, many of which have never been observed among viruses of bacteria or eukaryotes. The uniqueness of the virion morphologies is matched by the distinctiveness of the genomes of these viruses, with ∼75% of genes encoding unique proteins, refractory to functional annotation based on sequence analyses. In this review, we summarize the state-of-the-art knowledge on various aspects of archaeal virus genomics. First, we outline how structural and functional genomics efforts provided valuable insights into the functions of viral proteins and revealed intricate details of the archaeal virus-host interactions. We then highlight recent metagenomics studies, which provided a glimpse at the diversity of uncultivated viruses associated with the ubiquitous archaea in the oceans, including Thaumarchaeota, Marine Group II Euryarchaeota, and others. These findings, combined with the recent discovery that archaeal viruses mediate a rapid turnover of thaumarchaea in the deep sea ecosystems, illuminate the prominent role of these viruses in the biosphere. Finally, we discuss the origins and evolution of archaeal viruses and emphasize the evolutionary relationships between viruses and non-viral mobile genetic elements. Further exploration of the archaeal virus diversity as well as functional studies on diverse virus-host systems are bound to uncover novel, unexpected facets of the archaeal virome.
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