An incredible discovery coming out from Antarctica this week as a virus has been discovered by a group of Australian explorers and researchers. The researchers discovered the virophage and have been studying its effects on the ecosystem nearby. But still others are promoting the study of virophages as a possible eventual cure to a number of viral diseases in time.
Ricardo Cavicchioli, an Australian microbiologist from the University of new South Wales was leading the team that discovered the virus lurking beneath the waters of Organic Lake in Antarctica. The OLV virus, as it has been dubbed was the third of its kind to be found in the near freezing waters and has sparked the interest of a public interested if it could be engineered to eat other kinds of viruses, like HIV.
Virophages work their way through ecosystems, snatching up whatever viruses they come into contact with and interrupting their ability to reproduce. After the virus’ food supply is no longer present, the viruses naturally die off. At least that’s how it would work under ideal circumstances. In reality, one of the possible outcomes of such a creature is that the virus could actually change when interacting with a new virus and make the infection worse. But that isn’t stopping hopefuls from studying the virus as a means of eating up some of the most deadly diseases we see today.
And using viruses to treat disease is nothing new. Metastatic Melanoma is a disease that spreads throughout the body and has a high death rate. However, researchers were able to use a modified version of HSV-1 injected directly into the skin lesions to not only kill the cancerous tissue itself, but move on to the cancer within the body as well, breeding until it eventually cured most of the patients involved in the test.
And the history of using disease to treat or prevent disease has gone on even further than that. Vaccines were used as early as the Civil War to cure soldiers suffering from smallpox by infecting them with a weakened version of the cowpox virus to immunize them. Eventually, the practice caught on and in 1879 cholera vaccinations were developed as well. And after the long list of vaccines, the most effective treatment of many terminal illnesses became immunization. But immunization proved difficult for many diseases. And now in 2011 we may be taking the first few steps toward a more advanced method of targeting and killing viruses that may already be in the human body. Such a development could one day do for viruses what antibiotics did for bacteria.
And of course the ecological discovery alone is incredible as well. Scientists are hoping to study the area more to see if more virophages can be discovered – and with them possibly a new future for the human race.