Animals / Micro organisms / Nature / Virus

Are there any good viruses at all?



Viruses have received a bad reputation recently, all thanks to the epidemics and pandemics that have been plaguing us throughout history. This really begs the question: are there any viruses that are beneficial or are they generally the invisible villains of the world. In spite of the bad publicity, there are actually plenty of good viruses that deserve a big thanks from us.

Studies have shown that certain viruses benefit humans and animals and also have a positive impact on agriculture. This is such a vast subject that I will not  be able to cover in depth the benefits that viruses confer on other living organisms. I have tried to justify the benefits of viruses with a few examples in various contexts with a hope that our readers will be convinced that some viruses are good after all. 

Many plants infected with certain viruses exhibit no ill effects. In fact, viruses such as Brome mosaic virus, Cucumber mosaic virus contribute to some important survival aspects, such as  increasing a plant’s tolerance to drought and freezing temperatures. Another well known example of this is Curvularia thermal tolerance virus, which gives panic grass (found in Yellowstone National Park, USA) the ability to grow in geothermal soils. These plants can tolerate temperatures of over 46 C; what is even more unique about these plants is that they can tolerate these high temperatures during both day or night and do not seem to need a cool-off time, all thanks to a fungus-virus partnership. Usually, fungi are well known to have a symbiotic relationship with plants. The fungi found on these panic grass are  infected by viruses. The virus genome integrates itself into the fungus, and it is such a symbiotic relationship  between fungus and virus which yields exceptional benefits to plants. Identifying viruses and their symbiotic relationship with plants can have a great positive impact on agriculture.

Cancer cells

Cancer cells

Research has also shown viruses to exhibit oncolytic properties, meaning they specifically target cancer cells and help in their destruction. Famous examples are herpes viruses, which have been modified for treatment of certain types of cancer. Research is currently being conducted in clinical trials to explore the benefits of using viruses as immunotherapy for cancer.

Furthermore, viruses benefit humans on a day-to-day basis. Scientists have shown that mucus (slimy substance in the nose) and saliva in the mouth contain viruses which specifically attack bacteria, thus protecting us from harmful bacterial infections. In fact, some scientists claim that animals which carry mucus (slimy substances) are protected by harmful bacteria, all thanks to viruses. For me, the most fascinating aspect about viruses that I didn’t know before is that certain viruses are essentials for humans to give birth. Scientists hypothesize that many millions of years ago, certain viruses integrated into a mammal’s genome ( which is inherited by the next generation)  placenta, which enables the female mammal to carry a fetus within its body until birth. 




I really must mention  bats in this article given how much recent publicity they have received due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In another article, I will address the question on why bats are such good hosts of viruses.  Now, I will briefly discuss how bats are benefited by viruses. Bats are also mammals, just like  humans. A number of years of research has shown that bats are reservoirs of viruses. In some instances, it is shown that when bats get infected by some new viruses, they trigger an immune response which then provides long term protection against other closely related viruses, acting similar to vaccines. Bats are known to have long lives (relative to their body size) and a very low rate of cancer, which is a dreaded disease affecting humanity. Some research has indicated that the low prevalence of cancer in bats might be caused by  viruses. It is thought that the virus that causes Covid-19 originated in bats and infected humans through an intermediary animal.  Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is one benefit that wildlife has received: a break from human activity as a result of lockdowns worldwide. . 

Note: Royalty free images from and Unsplash,com  were used for this article

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