Researchers have found the first known “virovore,” or organism that eats viruses. Every sort of organism that can be discovered in the world feeds on organic matter. This is most likely a lot more like a complete, unexplored food chain.
John DeLong, a microbiologist from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the United States, and his team made the breakthrough.
According to the science magazine Newatlas, researcher John DeLong at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln wanted to find out if any microbes actively ate viruses, and whether such a diet could support the physiological growth of individuals and the population growth of a community.
According to a study published on Tuesday (December 27), scientists found that a species of Halteria – microscopic ciliates that populate freshwater worldwide – can eat huge numbers of infectious chloroviruses that share their aquatic habitat. For the first time, the team’s lab experiments have also shown that a virus-only diet, which the team calls “virovory,” is enough to fuel the physiological growth and even population growth of an organism.
“They’re made up of really good stuff: nucleic acids, a lot of nitrogen, and phosphorous,” said John DeLong.
“Everything should want to eat them. So many things will eat anything they can get a hold of. Surely something would have learned how to eat these really good raw materials.”
“If you multiply a crude estimate of how many viruses there are, how many ciliates there are and how much water there is, it comes out to this massive amount of energy movement (up the food chain),” said DeLong, who estimated that ciliates in a small pond might eat 10 trillion viruses a day. “If this is happening at the scale that we think it could be, it should completely change our view on global carbon cycling.”