This virus actually stole gene from a black widow spider

When you pick up a random species of insects and look inside its cells, there is a 40 percent chance that you’ll find bacteria known as Wolbachia. There is a virus called WO, lying inside its DNA where you’ll find parts of genes that look like they come from animals, which includes a toxin gene that makes the bite of the black widow spider so deadly!


Basically, there are three domains that comprise the tree of life Bacteria, Archaea, and Eukaryotes. Researchers show that viruses can infect these three domains. Eukaryota consists of the most intricate life forms on Earth, including plants, animals, and fungi, whose cells only possess nuclei. Bacteria and Archaea are composed of microorganisms thriving in severe environments like hot springs and underground fuel deposits. Bacteriophages are the viruses that attack only bacteria, cannot contaminate the cells with nuclei or the Eukaryotes.

It’s not unusual for researchers to find evidence of gene swapping within virus DNA. But this study signifies for the very first time a virus either borrowed, if not stole, the DNA of its victim. No virus in history has ever been discovered to cross domains in the creatures it infects.

“There haven’t been other cases of a latrotoxin found outside of spiders, discovering DNA related to the black widow spider toxin gene came as a total surprise because it is the first time that a phage, has been found carrying animal-like DNA,”  Seth Bordenstein told The Atlantic.

Let’s have a look at bacteria. The various strains of Wolbachia are masters at infecting spiders, arthropods, and insects. Since their hosts are the most diverse animals in the world, Wolbachia surely is one of the most successful microbes around. It manipulates the sex lives of their hosts, transforming males into females, or even killing them outright. It provides resistance to viruses. WO is a bacteriophage virus that specializes in infecting bacteria. It can actively make many copies of itself within Wolbachia, eventually bursting out with fatal results.”This unusual gene theft has shown the evolutionary adaptability of phage viruses”, says Ry Young, director of the Center for Phage Technology at Texas A&M University, College Station.

Their rapid life cycle, high mutation rate, and vast numbers mean that almost any conceivable adaptation is likely to occur relatively quickly. “Phages are the most advanced form of life on Earth,” he says. They’ve evolved more than we have.

Orginal research has been published in Nature Communications.

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