The remarkable diversity of the morphologies of viruses found in terrestrial hydrothermal environments with temperatures >80°C is unprecedented for aquatic ecosystems. The best-studied viruses from these habitats have been assigned to novel viral families: Fuselloviridae, Lipothrixviridae and Rudiviridae. They all have double-stranded DNA genomes and infect hyperthermophilic crenarchaea of the orders Sulfolobales and Thermoproteales. Representatives of the different viral families share a few homologous ORFs (open reading frames). However, about 90% of all ORFs in the seven sequenced genomes show no significant matches to sequences in public databases. This suggests that these hyperthermophilic viruses have exceptional biochemical solutions for biological functions. Specific features of genome organization, as well as strategies for DNA replication, suggest that phylogenetic relationships exist between crenarchaeal rudiviruses and the large eukaryal DNA viruses: poxviruses, the African swine fever virus and Chlorella viruses. Sequence patterns at the ends of the linear genome of the lipothrixvirus AFV1 are reminiscent of the telomeric ends of linear eukaryal chromosomes and suggest that a primitive telomeric mechanism operates in this virus.
Abbreviation used: ORF, open reading frame.
Thermophiles 2003, a held at University of Exeter, 15–19 September 2003