Chaperonins are protein-folding machinery found in all cellular life. Chaperonin genes have been documented within a few viruses, yet, surprisingly, analysis of metagenome sequence data indicated that chaperonin-carrying viruses are common and geographically widespread in marine ecosystems. Also unexpected was the discovery of viral chaperonin sequences related to thermosome proteins of archaea, indicating the presence of virioplankton populations infecting marine archaeal hosts. Virioplankton large subunit chaperonin sequences (GroELs) were divergent from bacterial sequences, indicating that viruses have carried this gene over long evolutionary time. Analysis of viral metagenome contigs indicated that: the order of large and small subunit genes was linked to the phylogeny of GroEL; both lytic and temperate phages may carry group I chaperonin genes; and viruses carrying a GroEL gene likely have large double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) genomes (>70?kb). Given these connections, it is likely that chaperonins are critical to the biology and ecology of virioplankton populations that carry these genes. Moreover, these discoveries raise the intriguing possibility that viral chaperonins may more broadly alter the structure and function of viral and cellular proteins in infected host cells.
Journal: The ISME journal