Newly-Discovered Organisms Actually Eat Viruses, Finally

It's about time something took a bite out of viruses!
Loukia Papadopoulos
The photo credit line may appear like thisfpm/iStock

With viruses causing so much havoc around us, it's refreshing to see that there is something out there that can actually beat them. According to a new study, there are two newly-discovered organisms that can and do eat viruses.

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“Our data show that many protist cells contain DNA of a wide variety of non-infectious viruses but not bacteria, strong evidence that they are feeding on viruses rather than on bacteria. That came as a big surprise, as these findings go against the currently predominant views of the role of viruses and protists in the marine food webs,” said in a statement corresponding author Dr. Ramunas Stepanauskas, Director of the Single Cell Genomics Center at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay, Maine, USA.

The new research outlines two single-cell organisms that can gobble down viruses for nutrition. The organisms are poorly known marine protists found off the coast of Maine.

Perhaps it shouldn't be so surprising that some organisms would live off of viruses considering their abundance and nutrient-richness. Still, the two freshly-spotted organisms are the only ones found so far to exhibit that trait.

“Viruses are rich in phosphorus and nitrogen, and could potentially be a good supplement to a carbon-rich diet that might include cellular prey or carbon-rich marine colloids,” said Dr. Julia Brown, a researcher at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and co-author of the study.

“The removal of viruses from the water may reduce the number of viruses available to infect other organisms, while also shuttling the organic carbon within virus particles higher up the food chain. Future research might consider whether protists that consume viruses accumulate DNA sequences from their viral prey within their own genomes, or consider how they might protect themselves from infection.”

The study was published in the journal  Frontiers in Microbiology.

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