Husker discovery of aquatic virus-eater makes global splash


Chlorovirus on algae
Kit Lee and Angie Fox 
Chlorovirus particles shown infecting microscopic green algae. A recent study from John DeLong and colleagues revealed that a microorganism found in freshwater can feed on chloroviruses. 

Happy holidays, indeed.

In late December 2022, a study led by Nebraska ecologist John DeLong was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That paper broke a microorganism’s big secret: Not only can it eat viruses, it can survive and even thrive on a virus-only diet.

Nebraska Today published its own story on the discovery — one viewed 18,000-plus times in less than a week. But that article was just one of many. To date, stories on the findings have run in more than 100 news outlets and more than 15 languages, from Spanish, Italian and German to Hindi, Japanese and Korean. Headlined by write-ups in Popular ScienceGizmodoYahoo! News and Live Science, news of the research has reached more than 300 million people.

Social media took notice, too. Roughly 400 Twitter users spanning six continents shared the breakthrough. Corey Powell, a frequent collaborator of Bill Nye the Science Guy, was among them.

The study also caught the attention of Redditors, receiving more than 62,000 upvotes — enough to earn it a place on Reddit’s front page. It spurred the creation of multiple Wikipedia pages for “virovore,” a term popularized by the Husker team that describes “an organism which obtains energy and nutrients from the consumption of viruses.” And it made the cut of recent findings highlighted on The Struggling Scientists Podcast.The Husker team’s milestone even found its way into a year-spanning infographic, snagging a spot in Visual Capitalist’s biggest scientific headlines of 2022.

Infographic of scientific breakthroughs
Visual Capitalist 

“I’m thrilled to be able to see something so fundamental for the first time,” DeLong said of the discovery. If the worldwide response to it is any indication, he’s not alone.