Living things will always consume organic stuff in one form or another. But viruses are a fresh addition to the menu. And Scientists from University of Nebraska have found out it is possible.
The term “virovore,” or an organism that eats viruses, was coined by researchers to describe animals that can devour viruses and thrive as a result.
John DeLong, a microbiologist from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the United States, and his group made the finding.
According to a study released on December 27, the plankton species Halteria and Paramecium can only feed on viruses. In the context of a single-cell organism, reproduction refers to growing the population.
DeLong and his team took pond water samples, extracted several microorganisms, and then introduced a lot of chlorovirus. Which is a freshwater resident that infects green algae, to test the theory.
The scientists monitored the population sizes of the viruses and the other bacteria over the following few days. This was to check whether the latter were consuming the former.
And sure enough, one specific microbe—a ciliate called Halteria—seemed to be nibbling on the viruses. In water samples where the ciliates had no other food source, Halteria populations increased by around 15 times in just two days. Whereas chlorovirus levels decreased by 100 times. Without the virus, Halteria did not develop at all in control samples.
These studies demonstrate that the recently formed term “virovory” can now coexist with herbivory, carnivory, and other forms of eating. With Halteria being the first known virovore, it’s not the only one, of course. The researchers intend to keep looking into it. Also as well as how it affects broader systems like the carbon cycle and food webs.
Is this a breakthrough?
Right now, however, it is difficult to say whether this a breakthrough or not. It is simply because only one team of scientists have done the research on this so far. Once the research spreads and other scientists confirm it, it might be a big thing. There might also be medical uses of the virus eating organism which can help humans defend against them.
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