Swimming with Viruses


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You can find viruses everywhere: in the soil, in the clouds and in animals. According to scientists from the University of Oldenburg in Germany, there are also a ridiculous number of viruses buried at sea, in the sediments of the oceans.

These sedimentary viruses don’t lie dormant on the seabed, but actively replicate down in the fathoms, even in the gyres of the ocean where most forms of life can’t be sustained since organic carbon is a scarce commodity. By infecting and killing prokaryotic cells (bacteria, archaea) in ocean sediments, viruses act as efficient organic carbon recycling machines.

Scientists found that in every sediment tested, from active tidal flats, open oceans and nutrient-poor gyres, viruses vastly outnumbered prokaryotic host cells. Active viruses didn’t just exist in the oceanic topsoil, but rather permeated through deep layers laid down millions of years ago. Bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria) could be found in layers of sediment 320m deep, and in ancient layers from ~14 million years ago.

These exciting findings mean that viruses are actively replicating in buried ocean sediments all the time, and are thus making a huge contribution to the maintenance and carbon cycling of oceanic microbial communities.


3 Responses to “Swimming with Viruses”

  1. Stephen Reply | Permalink

    Hey. I like this! How interesting, that viruses can actually have a positive effect on their ecosystem by recycling organic compounds - haven't heard of anything like that before. :)

    • Stephanie Swift Reply | Permalink

      Hi Stephen,
      Thank you so much for your lovely comment! I agree that viruses are the best!

  2. Maddie Reply | Permalink

    love it! the contribution of viruses to the carbon cycle is definitely an under appreciated topic. Even though viruses are technically non-living, I still like to think of them as part of the web of life- the base, if you will. In ecology we always talk about how only 10% of energy and carbon is transferred as you move to higher trophic levels. I think we might find that viruses fit into this concept, as well, being both simpler and numerically far more abundant than bacteria.

    ps- wrote a blog post a while back about fossil viruses. check it out if you're interested :)

    http://lonelyspore.com/2014/03/17/fossil-viruses-preserved-in-hot-spring-bacteria/

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