After generations of humans whined and moaned about how awful viruses are, turns out those ‘wads of nucleic acid and protein’ might just save our sorry asses when we ruin Earth and are forced to establish colonies on other planets/moons.
A key to establishing permanent residence on another planet is our ability to terraform. A key to terraforming is getting plants to grow to transform the land and atmosphere.
Well, there is a grass that grows in Yellow Stone National Park (among other places). Nothing much special about it– just a regular switchgrass/panicgrass sorta thing, Dichanthelium lanuginosum.
Yeah, nothing much special about it.
Except the fact it can grow in soil around thermal vents.
Soil thats, oh, about 150 degrees Fahrenheit (65 C).
Actually, its not the plant itself thats important. If you or I would order seeds of Dichanthelium lanuginosum and throw it in a pot– the grass wouldnt be happy outside of a ‘normal’ plant range (about 100 degrees F, 38 C).
The grass has to be infected with a fungus, Curvularia protuberata. Grasses that arent infected with this fungus cant survive in thermal vents.
Actually, again, its not the fungus thats important.
The fungus has to be infected with a dsRNA virus, ‘Curvularia thermal tolerance virus’.
If a virus infects a fungus, and that fungus infects a grass, the grass gains the ability to grow in an extreme environment.
In other scenarios, with other plants and other viruses– persistently infected plants have an advantage in colder temperatures, or drought.
We have to study ‘good’ viruses. We have to learn how to harness their evolutionarily honed abilities. Yeah, viruses might end up killing everything on this planet– but they might end up saving our sorry asses, too.