Newly Discovered Marine Viruses Offer Glimpse Into Untapped Biodiversity
Researchers of the University of Arizona’s Tucson Marine Phage Lab have discovered a dozen new types of unknown viruses that infect different strains of marine bacteria.
Bacteriophages – viruses that prey on bacteria – are less familiar to most people than their flu- or cold-causing cousins, but they control processes of global importance. For example, they determine how much oxygen goes from the oceans into the atmosphere in exchange for carbon dioxide, they influence climate patterns across the Earth and they alter the assemblages of microorganisms competing in the environment.
Despite their importance, scientists know almost nothing about “environmental viruses.” This is because most bacteriophages studies focus on those involved in human diseases or food processing.
Now, a research team led by Matthew Sullivan
, an assistant professor in the UA’s department of ecology and evolutionary biology, has deciphered the genetic makeup of 31 phages infecting a bacterium from the Baltic Sea known as Cellulophaga baltica
. This bacterium and its relatives, collectively known as Bacteroidetes
, play key roles in complex carbohydrate cycling in environments ranging from the oceans and sea ice to the human gut. The results are published
in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.