Are viruses the new gourmet food of the day? Perhaps for the tiny single-celled organisms that live in freshwater bodies around the world.
A new study, published December 27 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (opens in a new tab)finds that single-celled organisms called weightlifting he may be eating viruses like Pac-Man eats pellets, and could possibly change the way scientists think about the world Coal cycling.
He virus in question belong to the genus chlorovirus genus and are found in essentially all freshwater bodies, but mainly in inland waters such as lakes and ponds. Chloroviruses infect algae and fill them with viruses until they explode. This explosion releases carbon and other nutrients into the environment that would otherwise have been eaten by predators of the algae; instead, these nutrients are made available to other microorganisms.
This micro-recycling, while an advantage for other microorganisms, may not benefit the food chain as a whole, according to the study’s first author. John Long (opens in a new tab)ecologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said in a sentence (opens in a new tab). Energy generally passes up through the food chain as predators eat prey that has consumed simpler and more basic nutrient sources, such as algae. But when viruses destroy algae, that traps those nutrients at the bottom of the food chain.
“That’s really keeping carbon low in this kind of microbial soup layer, preventing herbivores from taking energy up the food chain,” DeLong said.
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With the myriad of viruses and microorganisms that abound in lakes, ponds and other bodies of freshwater, DeLong wondered, is there something that eats the viruses and restores the movement of nutrients up the food chain? In a literature search, he found previous research on single-celled, virus-eating organisms called protists, so there was a precedent for “virovorium,” a term DeLong and his team coined to refer to virus-only diets.
“[Viruses are] made of really good stuff: nucleic acids, lots of nitrogen and phosphorous,” he said. “Everything should want to eat them. So many things will eat anything they can get their hands on. Surely something would have learned to eat these really good raw materials.”
Fortunately, the samples for his study were not difficult to find. DeLong drove to a nearby pond and brought some water back to the lab. He concentrated as many microorganisms as he could into drops of water and added a generous portion of chlorovirus to some of them.
What he found was, devoid of any other food source, weightlifting it seemed to be eating viruses. He weightlifting in a virus-laden drop of water it grew to 15 times its original size in two days, while the number of chloroviruses plummeted. In the virus-free drop of water, weightlifting did not grow
To confirm that the viruses were eaten by the microscopic weightliftingDeLong’s team labeled chlorovirus dna with fluorescent green tint; very soon, they saw the glowing viruses in weightlifting‘yes vacuole, a structure equivalent to your stomach.
The team was excited, but they have more questions to answer, such as how to weightlifting eat viruses in nature? Or did they just gobble up whatever snack they could find in their little drop of water? Also, what does this potential diet mean for freshwater ecosystems around the world? DeLong suspects that in a small pond, weightlifting and other microorganisms could be eating 10 trillion viruses a day.
“If you multiply a rough estimate of how many viruses there are, how many [microorganisms] there is and how much water there is, it’s about this massive amount of energy movement (up the food chain),” DeLong said. “If this is happening on the scale that we think it could be, it should completely change our point of view. view on the global carbon cycle.