Right now, humanity has viruses on its mind. 2020 has been marred by a global coronavirus pandemic and of April 6th, it has left more than 72,000 dead and put the global economy at grave risk.  But this coronavirus causing all the trouble is only one virus out of several thousand that have been studied. The reality is, this doesn’t even touch the number of viruses that we think exist, as there are likely trillions of species. 
The Earth’s oceans are teeming with life and countless species call it home. However countless viruses call it home as well. In a single drop of ocean water, you can find , one million bacteria and about 1,000 small protozoans, and 10 million viruses. 
According to a new study, many types of viruses don’t actually infect any lifeforms, and some lifeforms feed on viruses.  The study was lead by led by marine ecologist Jennifer Welsh from the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research.
“Viruses are the most abundant biological entities in marine environments, however, despite its potential ecological implications, little is known about virus removal by ambient non-host organisms,” Welsh and her team write in their paper. 
Welsh and her team sought to understand how animals that are not host to viruses remove viruses from the water they live in. They examined the possibility that some animals actively fed on viruses, or that the viruses were destroyed incidentally by some other mechanism of the animal. They tested 10 different species, including sponges, crabs, and oysters.
“In our experiments, the sponges reduced the presence of viruses by up to 94 percent within three hours,” Welsh said. She added that after 24 hours, 98% of viruses were removed from the water.
“Another experiment showed that the uptake of viruses happens indeed very quickly and effectively. Even if we offered new viruses to the water every 20 minutes, the sponges remained tremendously effective in removing viruses.”
Sponges were the most effective destroyer of viruses, followed by crabs. Cockles removed 43% of viruses from the water, and oysters filtered out about 12%. The researchers note that it’s difficult to determine exactly how well these animals do at filtering out viruses in their natural environment, but they were incredibly effective in the researchers’ controlled setting.
“The situation there is much more complex, as many other animal species are present and influence one another,” Welsh said.
She added: “For example, if an oyster is filtering and a crab comes along, it closes its valve and stops filtering. In addition, there are factors such as tidal currents, temperature, and UV light to consider.”
The researchers believe that animals that effectively filter out viruses could be used to our advantage one day, for example, sponges being used in aquaculture farming to protect farm populations from water-borne viruses. But it’s hard to know for sure if that will be a possibility. Still, this study lays bare the virus-destroying possibilities of oceanic life, something humans had previously underestimated.
“The influence of non-host organisms in the ambient environment really is a factor that has been overlooked in virus ecology”, Welsh said.
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