These new images might look like alien life forms but feature never before seen viruses on Earth.

Scientists at Max Planck Institute in Germany discovered a group of giant virus-like particles in the soil of New England that feature tentacles and star-shaped shells – much like a turtle.

Giant viruses are typically larger than most, ranging from 0.2 to 1.5 micrometers, and are found in oceans, Arctic lakes and melting permafrost.

While newly found bizarre virus-like particles may strike fear in some, the researchers said these are not likely a threat to humans but are ‘very important players of the ecosystem.’

The new research, posted to bioRxiv while it awaits peer review, was conducted by virologist Matthias Fischer of the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Germany and his colleagues. 

The team collected soil samples from Massachusetts’ Harvard Forest in 2018, where giant viruses are known to thrive. 

However, the batch pulled from the dirt was nothing like they had ever seen. 

They exhibited tentacle-like ‘electron-dense inner tube’ appendages, ‘icosahedral’ protein shells shaped like 20-sided dice, ‘star’ designs, and other unusual shapes whose biological purposes are still unknown 

In the past, attempts to characterize giant viruses in Harvard Forest have focused on their packed genomes, which can house as many as 2.5 million DNA base pairs. 

But for their study, Fischer’s team focused on the microbes’ shape or ‘morphology,’ scanning soil samples with a transmission electron microscope beam to produce detailed images of the giant viruses and nearby virus-like particles.  

One category of giant virus they found resembled the ornate, crystalline bottles created centuries ago to store perfume, earning them the name ‘Flacon.’…Read More!

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