First "virovore" discovered: An organism that eats viruses

First "virovore" discovered: An organism that eats viruses
A microscope image of chloroviruses attacking a piece of algae
A microscope image of chloroviruses attacking a piece of algae
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A microscope image of chloroviruses attacking a piece of algae
A microscope image of chloroviruses attacking a piece of algae

Name a type of organic matter and chances are some type of organism has evolved to eat it. Plants, meat, algae, insects and bacteria are all consumed by different creatures, but now scientists have discovered something new on the menu – viruses.

Since viruses are found absolutely everywhere, it’s inevitable that organisms will consume them incidentally. But 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.

“They’re made up of really good stuff: nucleic acids, a lot of nitrogen and phosphorous,” said DeLong. “Everything should want to eat them. So many things will eat anything they can get ahold of. Surely something would have learned how to eat these really good raw materials.”

To test the hypothesis, DeLong and his team collected samples of pond water, isolated different microbes, and then added large amounts of chlorovirus, a freshwater inhabitant that infects green algae. Over the next few days the team tracked the population size of the viruses and the other microbes to see if the latter was eating the former.

And sure enough, one particular microbe seemed to be snacking on the viruses – a ciliate known as Halteria. In water samples with no other food source for the ciliates, Halteria populations grew by about 15 times within two days, while chlorovirus levels dropped 100-fold. In control samples without the virus, Halteria didn’t grow at all.

In follow-up tests, the team tagged chlorovirus DNA with fluorescent dye, and found that Halteria cells soon began to glow. This helped confirm that Halteria was indeed consuming the virus.

These experiments show that the newly coined term “virovory” can now take its place among herbivory, carnivory et al, with Halteria crowned the first known virovore. But of course, it’s unlikely to be the only one out there, and the researchers plan to continue investigating the phenomenon, including its effects on food webs and larger systems like the carbon cycle.

The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln via Eurekalert

This is a variant on a treatment discovered by a Canadian doctor/scientist during the first world war......he was a sympathizer of the Russian regime which was suffereing horrendous losses due to infections......his experiments led to what he termed PHAGE therapy....he isolated viruses and bacteria in petri dishes and noted they died in one part of the dish but not others......he then isolated the organizism that was killing off the germs and applied it in a spray which was used to sterilize hospital wards and soldiers was very effective .
Michael Nowacki
You can't add even the slightest teaser about whether well-fed Halteria is a good thing? Whether we can cultivate them to hoover up say, SARS-covid-19?
It's this a possible new adventure for testing viruses? Identifying or creating virovores specific to harmful viruses and using them medicinally?
The '20s Sinclair Lewis novel "Arrowsmith" is centered around a researcher scientist developing phage therapy.
Wonderful book by a favorite author.
The speedy development of antibiotics just after the book was written stopped any further phage research.