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  1. Abstract

    Viruses are the most numerically abundant biological entities on Earth. As ubiquitous replicators of molecular information and agents of community change, viruses have potent effects on the life on Earth, and may play a critical role in human spaceflight, for life-detection missions to other planetary bodies and planetary protection. However, major knowledge gaps constrain our understanding of the Earth's virosphere: (1) the role viruses play in biogeochemical cycles, (2) the origin(s) of viruses and (3) the involvement of viruses in the evolution, distribution and persistence of life. As viruses are the only replicators that span all known types of nucleic acids, an expanded experimental and theoretical toolbox built for Earth's viruses will be pivotal for detecting and understanding life on Earth and beyond. Only by filling in these knowledge and technical gaps we will obtain an inclusive assessment of how to distinguish and detect life on other planetary surfaces. Meanwhile, space exploration requires life-support systems for the needs of humans, plants and their microbial inhabitants. Viral effects on microbes and plants are essential for Earth's biosphere and human health, but virus–host interactions in spaceflight are poorly understood. Viral relationships with their hosts respond to environmental changes in complex ways which are difficult to predict by extrapolating from Earth-based proxies. These relationships should be studied in space to fully understand how spaceflight will modulate viral impacts on human health and life-support systems, including microbiomes. In this review, we address key questions that must be examined to incorporate viruses into Earth system models, life-support systems and life detection. Tackling these questions will benefit our efforts to develop planetary protection protocols and further our understanding of viruses in astrobiology.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 1, 2024
  2. Roux, Simon (Ed.)

    Iterons are short, repeated DNA sequences that are important for the replication of circular single-stranded DNA viruses. No tools that can reliably predict iterons are currently available. The CRUcivirus Iteron SEarch (CRUISE) tool is a computational tool that identifies iteron candidates near stem-loop structures in viral genomes.

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  3. Viruses are the most abundant biological entities on Earth, and yet, they have not received enough consideration in astrobiology. Viruses are also extraordinarily diverse, which is evident in the types of relationships they establish with their host, their strategies to store and replicate their genetic information and the enormous diversity of genes they contain. A viral population, especially if it corresponds to a virus with an RNA genome, can contain an array of sequence variants that greatly exceeds what is present in most cell populations. The fact that viruses always need cellular resources to multiply means that they establish very close interactions with cells. Although in the short term these relationships may appear to be negative for life, it is evident that they can be beneficial in the long term. Viruses are one of the most powerful selective pressures that exist, accelerating the evolution of defense mechanisms in the cellular world. They can also exchange genetic material with the host during the infection process, providing organisms with capacities that favor the colonization of new ecological niches or confer an advantage over competitors, just to cite a few examples. In addition, viruses have a relevant participation in the biogeochemical cycles of our planet, contributing to the recycling of the matter necessary for the maintenance of life. Therefore, although viruses have traditionally been excluded from the tree of life, the structure of this tree is largely the result of the interactions that have been established throughout the intertwined history of the cellular and the viral worlds. We do not know how other possible biospheres outside our planet could be, but it is clear that viruses play an essential role in the terrestrial one. Therefore, they must be taken into account both to improve our understanding of life that we know, and to understand other possible lives that might exist in the cosmos.

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  4. Roux, Simon (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Nucleic acid secondary structures play important roles in regulating biological processes. StemLoop-Finder is a computational tool to recognize and annotate conserved structural motifs in large data sets. The program is optimized for the detection of stem-loop structures that may serve as origins of replication in circular replication-associated protein (Rep)-encoding single-stranded (CRESS) DNA viruses. 
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