Evolutionary ecologist Joshua Weitz from Georgia Tech University will use Whitaker and Young's findings to develop a theoretical and computational eco-evolutionary model of how viruses and microbes interact.
"We are figuring out the parameters that will go into the model, then using the model to project what's happening in nature, and finally going into nature to see if it works," Whitaker said. "We will also learn things about natural populations that we didn't know and that we can test in the lab then apply in our models. It will be an iterative process."
To study the natural populations systematically, a method is needed to separate the host cells from the viruses. Hilgenfeldt has developed a device that currently separates particles by size that are between two to ten micrometers in diameter. In comparison, a human hair is about 75 micrometers wide. Archaeal cells, however, are just one micrometer wide and viruses are about 10 times smaller.
Hilgenfeldt says he will have to use some "fluid-dynamical tricks" on his device to make it work for such small particles: the larger archaeal cells are captured in a tiny vortex caused by an oscillating bubble, while the smaller viruses are able to pass unhindered through the channel (see video at http://youtu.be/M6GvUo5Lmk0).
"It's a tunable size filter because the strength of the transport flow and the bubble vibration strength decide what particle size gets through and what particle size is retained," Hilgenfeldt said. "We are excited to apply this principle to the samples from hot springs to figure out how the population dynamics can change."
Through this grant, Whitaker also plans to study microbial adaptive immunity, where a host is able to recognize infectious particles (like viruses) and degrade them if they are infected again.
|Contact: Nicholas Vasi|
Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign