Predator on Predator

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Nature is merciless when it comes to organisms feeding on others to survive.

Bacteria are eaten by other microorganisms, such as protozoans, for example.

Now, scientists recently found evidence that viruses too are prey to bigger predators, Gizmodo reported.

In their study, researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln called these organisms “virovores,” saying they actively feed on viruses for sustenance.

They came across one of these creatures while studying chloroviruses, a virus commonly found in freshwater that infects green algae.

In a series of experiments, they collected samples of pond water and moved as many different types of microorganisms into the water as possible. They then introduced the chloroviruses and waited a day to see what happened.

Their findings showed that samples containing the single-celled Halteria had no remains of viruses in them, with tests proving that the protozoan species did feed on chloroviruses and even multiplied.

But aside from showing that viruses have natural predators, the authors believe their study has important implications in terms of carbon cycling: Chloroviruses play an important role in their freshwater habitats because they recycle carbon and other nutrients, preventing the energy given by these nutrients from reaching larger forms of life.

However, if living things consume these viruses – which are then consumed by larger species, and so on – some of the nutrients and energy that would normally be recycled may instead work their way up the food chain.

“If this is happening at the scale that we think it could be, it should completely change our view on global carbon cycling,” said lead author John DeLong.

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