Nebraska researcher identifies the first known virus-eating organism.

EurekAlert presents the findings of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s John DeLong, who has found the first known virovore – a microorganism that feeds on viruses:

DeLong and his colleagues have found that a species of Halteria —microscopic ciliates that populate freshwater worldwide — can eat huge numbers of infectious chloroviruses that share their aquatic habitat. For the first time, the team’s lab experiments have also shown that a virus-only diet, which the team calls “virovory,” is enough to fuel the physiological growth and even population growth of an organism.

But if ciliates are having those same viruses for dinner, then virovory could be counterbalancing the carbon recycling that the viruses are known to perpetuate. It’s possible, DeLong said, that virovory is aiding and abetting carbon’s escape from the dregs of the food chain, granting it an upward mobility that viruses otherwise suppress.

“If you multiply a crude estimate of how many viruses there are, how many ciliates there are and how much water there is, it comes out to this massive amount of energy movement (up the food chain),” said DeLong, who estimated that ciliates in a small pond might eat 10 trillion viruses a day. “If this is happening at the scale that we think it could be, it should completely change our view on global carbon cycling.”