Though we may think that we’ve identified the majority of life forms in our world, scientists reportedly unearthed evidence that there is considerably more than we may have once thought. And one of the final frontiers of life categorization comes in the form of viruses which have been discovered in massive amounts in a location that may surprise you.
Scientists working at Pittsburg University recently gathered and attempted to sequence viruses discovered in local sewers – many of which were quite near residential areas and found that only a tiny fraction, roughly 3,000 out of 43,000 had even been identified. Those that had not been identified so outweighed the others that the scientists contended that it may be representative of a larger picture that we have only begun to identify life on our planet at the smaller scale.
And not all of them were harmful. The theory goes that we study viruses that are harmful because they require attention and therefore receive vast amounts of research to sequence their genetic codes due to the demands and the potential deaths they could cause. Quite the contrary may be the case, however, with several viruses which may play a key role in human development and even assist us in ways we do not fully understand. These helpful viruses could one day be found to bring about a plethora of positive results.
And so one of the questions this research indicates is regarding those potentially beneficial viruses. Could we one day find ourselves purposefully injecting ourselves with helpful viruses to boost our immune systems, fight other diseases, or even recreationally like certain chemicals are used today? The idea that viruses could one day be the answer to many health questions is not a new one. Previously doctors have considered virophages, such as the one discovered in an antarctic lake in March of this year as a cure to viral illnesses.
A virophage is a virus that feeds on and eats other viruses. Though it may not look very different from an ordinary virus, the virophage is a sort of virus parasite that uses the component parts of the virus to host its young. As it floods the body and seeks out other viruses, it spreads quickly and then when the virus is dead, the virophage can find no way to reproduce or to sustain itself and it dies out as well.
What may we one day find out about viruses? And could the technology bring us a fresh perspective about the world and ourselves? Even if this humbling exercise has shown us that we know very little about the vast number of viruses on our planet, it has shown us that there could one day be some unexpected benefits to their study.