If you've read Greek mythology, you may remember that Medusa, with her poisonous serpent hair and her ability to turn her enemies into stone at a glance, was killed by the swift sword of Perseus.
Researchers at Kyoto University of Science, however, have found a way to live on: a huge virus that lives in hot springs and turns its hosts into "stone".
The Medusavirus – real name Medusaviridae – is the first of its kind discovered in such a hot environment where temperatures reach 110 degrees.
Together with the virus, which has more than 2,000 spikes from its surface, the scientists found evidence that the natural host of the "ancient" Medusavirus is an amoeba called Acanthamoeba castellanii. When the amoeba becomes infected, it loses water and hardens into what is called an "encystment" ̵
The scientists do not believe that humans can become infected with the Medusavirus.
The virus represents a new lineage belonging to a family of nucleocytoplasmic large DNA viruses, all of which contain double-stranded DNA, like humans.
The peculiarity of the virus is that scientists have found in their study that it has histones or molecules involved in the replication and organization of DNA, "much like arranging a garden hose around a roll", Todd Ellerin, Infectious Diseases Director and Deputy Chairman of the South Shore Health Department of Medicine, Weymouth, Mass., Told ABC News.
They also found that there was a large overlap between the DNA of the virus and the amoeba, suggesting that the two evolved together and led DNA back and forth for centuries.
Because of their many unique features, scientists believe these viruses are associated with major transitions in evolution, including DNA replication, a process critical to human life itself. Therefore, the discovery of this virus is important for the study of evolution.
Ellerin said, "It has a complexity that can help shed light on ancestral ancestry, which could ultimately lead to insights that raise more questions than answers."
Ashley Knight-Greenfield, MD, lives in diagnostic radiology and is a member of the ABC News Medical Unit.