That Oxygen? Thank Seafaring Virus!

Oxygen. It's a blessed, life-sustaining thing. We all need it. We all love it. And for so many years we were giving kudos to trees, whose photosynthesis takes in yucky carbon dioxide and gives us that life gas. No more!

A cyanophage virus may sound scary, but it turns out the little bugger, which infects sea algae, may be responsible for as much as 5% of our lovely planet's oxygen. Though scientists always knew C.V. maintained photosynthesis while infecting the ocean's simple cyanobacteria, a clever Israeli researcher named Oded Béjà discovered that cyanophage virus actually accelerate photosynthesis, creating a "life support" system through which it keeps its paralyzed, single-celled victims alive as it infects them. It's grim, yes, but it's all for the best.

Eric Wommack of the University of Delaware in Newark says the discovery suggests these viruses may play a role in global oxygen production. "Their hosts produce half the world's oxygen and roughly 10 per cent of these cells are infected by cyanophages," he says. "So it is possible that as much as 5 per cent of the world's oxygen production results from cyanophage infected cells."

The lesson here? Well, that's the way the world works: we humans thrive off of and, in fact, need the misery of dumber, lowlier creatures to continue wreaking our own brand of parasitic havoc. It's called the "circle of life" and it works!

But, sadly, we're polluting our oceans — there's a huge trash heap floating in the Pacific — so who knows how much longer this little arrangement will last. Could be the cyanophages will die out and we'll all find ourselves hugging those trees again.

Image via jurveston's flickr.