Scientists have discovered the first known organism that lives solely on a diet of viruses

Scientists have found that a species of plankton found in fresh waters around the world is the first known organism in the world to survive and thrive on viruses alone, shedding new light on the role of viruses in the global food web.

The study, published last week in the journal PNAS, found that this virus-only diet – which they call “virovory” – is enough to fuel the growth and reproduction of the species Halter, single-celled organism known for its tiny hairs.

“It seemed obvious that everything had to get viruses in their mouths all the time. It felt like it had to happen because there is so much of it in the water,” study co-author John DeLong of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said in a statement.

Researchers say previous research provides little evidence that aquatic organisms eat viruses.

Most studies place viruses as the main “predators” in food chains, but Dr.Long and his team say viruses can also serve as food, like most predators.

“They consist of really good material: nucleic acids, lots of nitrogen and phosphorus. Everything should want to eat them,” he explained.

“So many things will eat anything they can get their hands on. It would certainly learn something from eating these really good raw materials,” Dr. DeLong added.

While viruses are accidentally consumed by other microbes to qualify as a step in the food chain, scientists say the body must obtain a significant amount of energy or nutrients from consuming viruses.

In the study, Dr. DeLong collected pond water samples, pooled all the microbes into water droplets, and added “heavy portions” of chlorovirus – known to infect microscopic green algae.

Scientists found that laboratory samples Halter it not only absorbed the chloroviruses added to its environment, but also fueled the growth of plankton and increased its population size.

While the number of chloroviruses plummeted by as much as 100-fold in just two days, scientists observed that during this period the population Halter – having nothing to eat but the virus – grew an average of about 15 times.

They also stated that Halter, devoid of chlorovirus “didn’t grow at all”.

Scientists have estimated that everyone Halter in the experiment, he ate about 104 up to 106 viruses per day, “suggesting that 1014 up to 1016 virions could be eaten daily in a small pond.”

Halterthe researchers say, it also converted nearly one-fifth of the used chlorovirus mass into new mass of its own.

The study also suggests that the evolution of viruses may be influenced by the pressure exerted on them by other predatory microbes in their environment.

“Our results suggest that the persistence of virions in the environment depends not only on environmental factors, but also on predator grazing,” the researchers wrote in the study.

“It is therefore possible that grazing animals exert selective pressure and influence the evolution of viral phenotypes in a way that interacts with the pressure on viruses to successfully infect and replicate in hosts,” they added.

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