On the dinner plate that is planet Earth, there exists a veritable buffet of viruses — an amount of biomass that is the equivalent of about 25 billion human beings.
So perhaps it’s a bit baffling that scientists have yet to pinpoint a species that deliberately eats viruses for energy.
But mounting evidence suggests that at least one group of organisms might nosh on nutrient-rich viruses: protists, microscopic and often single-celled organisms that scientists have struggled to place on the tree of life. Like viruses, protists seethe in seawater by the billions and trillions — and some might slurp up marine viruses, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.
If the findings pan out, they could help flip a centuries-old dogma on its head: Rather than acting only as disease-causing agents of chaos and snuffing out life, viruses might in some cases play a role