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How did viruses evolve? An accidental discovery at a sewage treatment plant may hold the answer....


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An artist's conception of what Klosneuvirus might look like

The possibility of self-sufficiency might suggest that viruses hail from a fourth domain of life (the other three being bacteria, archaea—another type of single-cell microorganism—and eukaryotes—multicellular organisms like humans). The fourth-domain theory was first floated back in 2003 when evolutionary biologist Jean-Michel Claverie and his team discovered another giant virus, Mimivirus. Claverie believes there’s a good chance that viruses were once full-fledged, single-celled organisms capable of living on their own. They evolved into modern viruses, he says, by flushing out unnecessary bits of genetic code as they became more entrenched in the parasitic lifestyle.

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