07/18/2014

Frozen in Time, a Giant Virus

6:50 minutes

An ultrathin section of a Pithovirus particle in an infected Acanthamoeba castellanii cell, observed by transmission electron microscopy. The length of the particle is ~1.5 µm with a 0.5 µm diameter. Image courtesy of Julia Bartoli and Chantal Abergel, IGS and CNRS-AMU
An ultrathin section of a “Pithovirus” particle in an infected “Acanthamoeba castellanii” cell, observed by transmission electron microscopy. The length of the particle is ~1.5 µm with a 0.5 µm diameter. Image courtesy of Julia Bartoli and Chantal Abergel, IGS and CNRS-AMU

Earlier this year, researchers recovered a 30,000-year-old virus from a section of Siberian permafrost. The specimen was huge (for a virus)—large enough to be seen through a regular light microscope. Plant pathologist James Van Etten, who studies giant viruses at the University of Nebraska, describes the find and talks about what the world’s giant viruses might be able to tell biologists about the evolution of life on earth.

Segment Guests

James L. Van Etten

James L. Van Etten is William B. Allington Distinguished Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Meet the Producer

About Charles Bergquist

As Science Friday’s director, Charles Bergquist channels the chaos of a live production studio into something sounding like a radio program. Favorite topics include planetary sciences, chemistry, materials, and shiny things with blinking lights.