In the Greek myth, a beautiful maiden named Medusa is attacked by Poseidon while serving in Athena’s temple. As punishment (or as protection), Athena transforms Medusa into a Gorgon, a creature with snakes for hair and a gaze that turns onlookers to stone. Years later, Perseus shows up and cuts off Medusa’s head. Her powers remain, and he uses the head to turn all his enemies into statues.
This story inspired the naming of a mysterious new virus discovered in a hot spring in Japan. When scientists began experiments, they saw that the virus attacks amoebas, either causing them to burst or develop a hard outer shell like stone. Instead of snakes, the virus has over 2,500 spikes protecting its genetic material. Given its style of attack, they named the giant virus the “Medusavirus.” It even got its own family, too, also named after Medusa: Medusaviridae.
The other interesting thing about this discovery: the amoebas and Medusavirus share some genes. This could mean that the single-celled organisms and virus have been interacting for millions of years. Using this information, scientists could track the history of cells and viruses through time.
The Medusavirus isn’t the only strange virus out there. A research team from France once discovered a giant virus in the Siberian permafrost and aged it to around 30,000 years. It’s so big, you can see it with a regular microscope. Even after all that time underground, the virus was still able to infect amoebas. Certain viruses can survive extremely hot temps as well as the frozen permafrost. One, known as SIRV2, lives in boiling acidic springs. While many viruses don’t affect humans, enough do, and given how we don’t have any new antibiotics and viruses are evolving quickly, it’s essential that we learn all we can about these tiny killers.