Bizarre virus has genes never seen before

Call yourself Earth's dominant life form all you want, humans, but viruses have you beat. These organisms are everywhere, they survive extreme conditions, and they're even living on your body right now. Furthermore, as much as viruses might give you the heebie-jeebies, they're extremely important to advancing science. That's why, according to Futurism, an international team of scientists dipped into Brazil's Lake Pampulha, an artificial body of water, looking for new viruses to sequence. 

What these experts found, though, defied belief. A mysterious virus had infected the lake's amoebas, and over 90 percent of its genes were completely unrecognizable, as explained in a January 2020 publication. This bizarro virus, dubbed the Yaravirus (after the mythological Yara, the Brazilian "mother of waters") is so radically different from anything discovered in the past that, according to the team, it threatens to completely upend the entire way that viruses are classified. 

Wait, so is the Yaravirus dangerous?

Okay, yes, it's a hard time to be a germaphobe. Between the regular perils of flu season and new perils of the coronavirus, hearing news about yet another "new" virus is enough to make a person wear latex gloves on a 24/7 basis. 

Well, take a deep breath. Calm down. Don't worry about adding this to your list of deadliest viruses in the world or go looking for a vaccine because according to Live Science, the Yaravirus poses no threat to human beings. Neither do most viruses, for that matter. As explained by Jônatas Abrahão, an associate professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil, "If we consider all known viruses by now, we can say that most of them do not represent any threat for our health." That said, viruses are a huge and important part of the natural environment, and now that you've taken off that silly medical mask, maybe you can appreciate how this crazy Yaravirus disrupts the status quo.

The Yaravirus is changin' the game

Again, what renders Yaravirus so unique is that it defies all known rules about viruses. For one, as Live Science points out, it's considerably smaller than any previously documented viruses that infect amoebas. Two, the Yaravirus genome, when closely analyzed, shows such few similarities to known viruses that scientists are baffled about where it first came from or how it evolved. Also, as Dr. Abrahão points out, the fact that the Yaravirus was only discovered now doesn't mean it hasn't been around for a long, long time, just hiding in the shadows, to say nothing of the possibility that similarly unknown viruses might be out there. 

Keep in mind, the fact that the Yaravirus is so freakishly new and weird is exactly what makes it so exciting. Since the news broke, other researchers have voiced their enthusiasm across the internet, with perhaps the most quoted voice being Harvard Medical School's Ayaz Najafov, who excitedly tweeted,"So, a whole new treasure chest of previously-unseen biochemical processes?!" Hey, it's hard to say it better than that.