Exploration of the propagation of transpovirons within Mimiviridae reveals a unique example of commensalism in the viral world

ISME J. 2020 Mar;14(3):727-739. doi: 10.1038/s41396-019-0565-y. Epub 2019 Dec 10.


Acanthamoeba-infecting Mimiviridae are giant viruses with dsDNA genome up to 1.5 Mb. They build viral factories in the host cytoplasm in which the nuclear-like virus-encoded functions take place. They are themselves the target of infections by 20-kb-dsDNA virophages, replicating in the giant virus factories and can also be found associated with 7-kb-DNA episomes, dubbed transpovirons. Here we isolated a virophage (Zamilon vitis) and two transpovirons respectively associated to B- and C-clade mimiviruses. We found that the virophage could transfer each transpoviron provided the host viruses were devoid of a resident transpoviron (permissive effect). If not, only the resident transpoviron originally isolated from the corresponding virus was replicated and propagated within the virophage progeny (dominance effect). Although B- and C-clade viruses devoid of transpoviron could replicate each transpoviron, they did it with a lower efficiency across clades, suggesting an ongoing process of adaptive co-evolution. We analysed the proteomes of host viruses and virophage particles in search of proteins involved in this adaptation process. This study also highlights a unique example of intricate commensalism in the viral world, where the transpoviron uses the virophage to propagate and where the Zamilon virophage and the transpoviron depend on the giant virus to replicate, without affecting its infectious cycle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acanthamoeba / virology*
  • Giant Viruses / genetics
  • Giant Viruses / physiology
  • Mimiviridae / genetics
  • Mimiviridae / growth & development
  • Mimiviridae / isolation & purification
  • Mimiviridae / physiology*
  • Symbiosis
  • Virophages / genetics
  • Virophages / physiology