Virus-X scientists explore extreme environments

news-2The genetic resources of natural ecosystems here on Earth have enormous potential as a source of valuable gene products such as enzymes that can be utilized in various ways.  The Virus-X project is a multinational research project funded by the European Union (under the Horizon2020 framework) that aims to exploit the genetic resources of viruses in microbial ecosystems, including extreme environments such as hot springs. During the summer of 2016, Virus-X scientists have systematically surveyed geothermal areas in Iceland in search of suitable sampling sites for the exploitation of the viruses that thrive in these environment through propagation by infection of thermophilic bacteria. The hot springs are example of some of the most extreme environments where life can still exist at temperatures up to the boiling point of water. To be able to withstand such conditions the constituents of the bacteria and the viruses (e.g. the proteins encoded by their genes) have evolved to be intrinsically heat resistant, a property that can make them particularly useful for certain applications. The hot springs in Iceland provide a spectrum of widely different environmental conditions that are reflected in the particular biological divernews-1sity of each spring. Since the parameters such as temperature, pH, presence of gas and minerals are widely different, the springs each represent a unique setup of microbial strains that have developed to be able to thrive at the particular conditions. The evolution that drives the adaption to particular conditions is inherently reflected in the properties of the gene products encoded by the genes in the genomes of the microbes and viruses in these ecosystems. Discovery of these genes and the corresponding gene products harbouring these special properties is a driving force behind the Virus-X project. Besides exploitation of genetic resources and development of useful products, the Virus-X project is also expected to improve our understanding of microbial communities and gain better insight into the functional dynamics of those ecosystems including host-virus interactions.

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