Giant Virus Discovery In Western Mass. Forest May Further Study Of Biodiversity

Nov 21, 2018

UMass Amherst biologists who study climate change say they've discovered 16 giant viruses — previously unidentified — in a western Massachusetts forest.

UMass professor Jeff Blanchard said his team was digging at Harvard Forest in Petersham to see if there was any new bacteria in soil that's getting warmer.

But when they put the specimens through a genetic process, they found 16 viruses — with genomes about 100 times larger than the typical virus.

Blanchard said other giant viruses have been found in the ocean and in sewage sludge, but never before on land.

"Now all of a sudden we're venturing into a whole new area where there's a whole new diversity and range of viruses that no one's ever seen before," he said.

Blanchard said giant viruses, which are still microscopic, are not dangerous to humans, and not to most plants, either. They're just part of the ecosystem.

He said he hopes the discovery will contribute to future biotech research, and will lead to more evidence of previously unknown biodiversity.