Biofilms that grow around Gumingquan hot spring (T = 71 °C, pH = 9.2) in the Rehai geothermal area, Tengchong, China, are formed of various cyanobacteria, Firmicutes, Aquificae, Thermodesulfobacteria, Desulfurococcales, and Thermoproteales. Silicified virus-like nanoparticles, 40–200 nm in diameter, are common inside the microbial cells and the extracellular polymeric substances around the cells. These nanoparticles, which are formed of a core encased by a silica cortex, are morphologically akin to known viruses and directly comparable to silicified virus-like particles that were produced in biofilms cultured in the laboratory. The information obtained from examination of the natural and laboratory-produced samples suggests that viruses can be preserved by silicification, especially while they are still encased in their host cells. These results expand our views of virus–host mineral interaction in extreme thermal environments and imply that viruses can be potentially preserved and identified in the geological record.
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