It gets weirder. For such prolific killers, it seems odd that they’ve only just been spotted and sequenced.
Observing the viruses doing their thing, the team found that, despite their diversity in infectious habits and hosts, they kill the bacteria far more slowly than their compatriots. Researchers had simply been checking bacterial samples too soon, and as a result, the viruses eluded capture.
It’s only fitting, then, that their family name is Autolykiviridae, which the authors explain in their paper is “reference to Autolykos, a character in Greek mythology notable for being difficult to catch.”
This type of virus is associated with infecting animals, and very few of its kind have been seen infecting bacteria. All in all, then, this is a very novel family of viruses – and their abilities and prevalence suggest that they’re very important too, playing a major role in ecosystems.
Just recently, a team of researchers suggested that we should be looking for alien viruses out there in our Solar System. One of the key points of the said review was that viruses are particularly abundant in the oceans, which suggests that in the seas of Europe and Enceladus, entirely new ecosystems of viruses await us.
So, just as we’ve discovered this new virus hiding in our world’s coral reefs, perhaps someday, sooner rather than later, we’ll find a similar bacteria-killing critter out there in our celestial neighborhood, dominating its own extraterrestrial ecosystem.