A pair of probably bored researchers decided to sequence the genome of a Wolbachia-attacking virus for fun only to discover black widow DNA hiding within the genetic makeup of the virus. This was a surprise to the Vanderbilt researchers and a very big deal to science, since animal DNA has never been found in a virus that attacks bacteria.
This was a strange finding since viral genes possess the ability to break down the defenses of bacterial cells that the virus is targeting, but in this case the DNA that resembles black widow DNA is fully intact within the virus, which is not typical. The scientists noted that the DNA was specifically identical to the toxins produced by black widows, so maybe the virus works as a sort of “insecticidal toxin,” but this is only a possibility, as more studies are needed to determine the function of the black widow DNA as it relates to the virus where it was found.
The Wolbachia virus is known for infecting many different types of insects including mosquitoes. Based on these early findings, researchers are hoping to genetically engineer the strange genetic makeup of this virus with the hopes that the possible insecticidal properties could be used against disease carrying mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia.
How could the DNA from a living organism find its way into the genetic makeup of a bacteria-attacking virus?