Halteria – Viral nutrition: new study reveals microbes nourished by consuming viruses

Source: The post is based on the article “Viral nutrition: new study reveals microbes nourished by consuming viruses” published in The Hindu on 19th January 2023.

Halteria – Viral nutrition: new study reveals microbes nourished by consuming viruseshers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have reported that a particular genus of plankton, namely Halteria, can consume viruses as well as survive on a virus-only diet.
What are Planktons?

Plankton are microscopic organisms that can only move with a current. They don’t have any facilities to actively propel themselves. 

A type of plankton — the phytoplankton — is found nearer the surface of many water bodies. It is an autotroph, which means it can make its own food by consuming carbon dioxide among other compounds through photosynthesis. 

When phytoplankton dies, they drift around where they are, becoming part of a coastal nutrient cycle, or they drift down towards the seafloor, where they decompose. Their constituents then become available for microbes or are sequestered into the seafloor.

So, phytoplankton brings carbon and other nutrients from the atmosphere and sea surface down to the seafloor and help replenish the food chain (and also ‘trap’ carbon into their own bodies and as sediments). 

They are joined by bacteria that make their own food by oxidizing sulphur, iron or hydrogen in a process called chemosynthesis.

What are Halteria?

Halteria plankton are ciliates, meaning they have hair-like structures called cilia on their surface. Sometimes they can beat some of these cilia to jump short distances, but not often as it requires too much energy.

Halteria plankton are found in large numbers in freshwater bodies. They are heterotrophs meaning they can’t produce their own food. Instead, they are well-known bacterivores — they consume bacteria to power themselves.

What did the researchers find about Halteria?

Halteria ciliates are virovores which means they are able to survive on a virus-only diet. These single-celled creatures are the first known to thrive when viruses alone are on the menu.


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