Why ‘Viral Pac-Man’ Halteria’s Fussy Eating Impact on Global Carbon Cycling Might Be Good Climate News.

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Researchers have discovered that a single-celled organism called Halteria consumes viruses, and how this potentially brings good climate news as it alters our understanding of the global carbon cycle and microorganisms’ role in it.

It seems as though some single-celled organisms are fussy eaters and like nothing better than munching through a plate of viruses. The viruses in question are just as picky and feast only on pond scum. If it wasn’t such good climate news, it would be the lousiest restaurant review ever.

A recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that Halteria, a single-celled organism, does indeed consume viruses – according to the journal ‘like a Pac Man eats power pellets’. The laboratory discovery, for which the scientists have coined the term virovory (eating only viruses), could potentially change our understanding of global carbon cycling if it occurs in the wild. The discovery may well be good climate news in our fight against carbon emissions and global climate change.

Chloroviruses, the viruses in question, are predominantly found in inland water bodies such as lakes and ponds. These viruses infect algae, causing them to explode and release carbon and other nutrients into the environment. This process hinders the upward flow of energy through the food chain, as predators that would typically consume algae are unable to access these nutrients. Consequently, the nutrients remain trapped at the bottom of the food chain.

Intrigued by this phenomenon, study author John DeLong, an ecologist at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, investigated whether any microorganisms consume viruses and restore the flow of nutrients up the food chain. DeLong discovered previous research on virus-eating single-celled organisms called protists, leading him to coin the term “virovory” to describe virus-only diets.

Viruses contain valuable components such as nucleic acids, nitrogen, and phosphorus, leading DeLong to believe that many organisms would want to consume them. To test this hypothesis, DeLong collected pond water samples and added Chlorovirus to some of the samples. He discovered that Halteria appeared to consume viruses when no other food source was available. In the presence of viruses, Halteria grew 15 times their original size within two days, while the number of chloroviruses significantly decreased.

To verify that Halteria were indeed consuming the viruses, DeLong’s team tagged the Chlorovirus DNA with fluorescent green dye. They subsequently observed the glowing viruses in the Halteria’s vacuole, an organelle similar to a stomach.

Moreover, it’s crucial to investigate how this virus-eating activity of Halteria influences other aquatic inhabitants. It could potentially shape the population dynamics of other microorganisms and the overall biodiversity of freshwater habitats. In addition, the intricate connection between Halteria’s feeding habits and the proliferation or suppression of certain virus strains is worth examining.

If Halteria’s diet does contribute to controlling virus populations in natural bodies of freshwater, it may generate other possibilities, apart from good climate news. We may, for instance, be able to harness this phenomenon for managing diseases in marine or freshwater environments. The potential role of Halteria in mitigating harmful algal blooms, which are often triggered by viruses, also warrants exploration.

This discovery raises intriguing possibilities for bioengineering applications. If Halteria can be engineered or encouraged to selectively consume harmful viruses, it could become a powerful tool in environmental management and health sciences.

However, while the potential benefits are tantalizing, we must also consider the risks and uncertainties associated with altering natural processes. The balance of ecosystems is delicate, and any interventions must be made with caution and respect for the natural world.

Click here to view the original web page at: ‘Pac-Man’ microorganisms gobble down viruses like power pellets

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