There’s still a lot to discover about bacteria and viruses despite the long years of studying them. Recently, researchers released a paper in the journal Nature focusing on viruses that specifically infect bacteria called bacteriophages or “phages.” Phages are not capable of carrying out biological processes without the help and cellular machinery of another organism, thus, they are not considered living organisms.
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While they seem harmless, phages can cause disease in animals and humans by preying on populations of bacteria, altering their metabolism, spreading antibiotic resistance, and carrying these compounds. Senior author Jill Banfield, a University of California, Berkeley professor of Earth and planetary science and of environmental science, policy, and management, stated that these microorganisms are "hybrids between what we think of as traditional viruses and traditional living organisms.
"Typically, what separates life from nonlife is to have ribosomes and the ability to do translation; that is one of the major defining features that separate viruses and bacteria, nonlife and life. Some large phages have a lot of this translational machinery, so they are blurring the line a bit,” said co-lead author Rohan Sachdeva, a research associate at UC Berkeley.
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According to Live Science, a science news website that features groundbreaking developments in science, space, technology, health, the environment, culture, and history, the researchers collected DNA samples from nearly 30 different environments around the world to build a database. In these samples, they found 351 huge phages that had genomes four or more times larger than the average genome of phages. The team even discovered the largest phage with a genome of 735,000 base pairs, which is nearly 15 times larger than the average phage.
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The researchers suggested that the phages' own CRISPR system strengthens the CRISPR system of the bacteria once they have injected their DNA into bacteria. This would get rid of the competition since the combined CRISPR system could help to target other phages.