Scientists discover the first life form known to eat viruses

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Viruses are apparently no exception to the canine world of nature. In a recent study, scientists found evidence that some microscopic organisms actively feed on viruses. Although this may be the first “virovore” ever documented, many more probably exist, according to the team.

Simply put, viruses are incredibly tiny packages of genetic material. Although they perform many biological functions, such as replicating, they must infect and take over the machinery of cells belonging to other organisms to do so – a parasitic state of being that has led to fierce debate and continuous on whether viruses should be considered living beings. Regardless of their exact definition, viruses play many vital roles in the life cycle of every other creature in the world, including humans.

Researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln appear to be the first to investigate whether viruses could be on the menu. Their Previous work introduced them to chloroviruses, viruses abundant in fresh water that infect green algae. They wondered if some organisms living in water had ever relied on viruses for energy.

To test their hypothesis, they first took samples of pond water. Then they moved as many distinct types of microscopic beings through the water as possible. Finally, they introduced large amounts of chlorovirus into the water and just waited a day to see if anything would change.

At the end of their experiments, they identified a species of Dumbbells– a single-celled protozoan – which seemed to eat chloroviruses. Not only did virus populations decline in the presence of the Dumbbells, but the number of protozoa increased at the same time, indicating that the microbes were using the virus as fuel. the Dumbbells also didn’t grow when the chloroviruses weren’t there. And when the team used a fluorescent green dye to label the DNA of the chloroviruses before they entered the water, they could clearly see the “stomachs” of the Dumbbells then light up, seemingly confirming their viral diet.

It’s perhaps not too surprising that some smaller creatures evolve to intentionally ingest viruses. But as far as the researchers could tell, their study is the first to show that some microbes can sustain themselves with viruses alone. their findings, published late last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also suggest that Dumbbells can feed on chloroviruses as effectively as other microscopic organisms can feed on tiny food sources like bacteria and algae. They feel that Dumbbells in a small pond may be able to eat up to 10 trillion chlorovirus per day.

“[Viruses are] made up of some really good stuff: nucleic acids, lots of nitrogen and phosphorus,” said lead author John DeLong, associate professor of biological sciences, in a statement published by the university. “So many things will eat whatever they can find. Surely something would have learned to eat these very good raw materials.

Far from being a mere curiosity, the team’s research could have important implications. These viruses are already known to play a vital role in their freshwater environments, as they recycle carbon and other nutrients, effectively preventing the energy provided by these nutrients from reaching other more life forms. large. But if living things eat these viruses, which are then eaten by larger organisms, etc., then some of the nutrients and energy that they would normally recycle might move up the food chain instead.

“If this happens on the scale that we think it could be, it should completely change our view of the global carbon cycle,” DeLong said.

DeLong and his team say they have since identified other microorganisms that appear capable of “virovariance” in the lab. But while they suspect many creatures can feed on viruses, they plan to find out if this happens regularly in nature. And from there, more work will be needed to find out how virovores affect their surrounding environment.

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