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Short circuit in the food web
Date:7/9/2014

Jena (Germany) They are amongst the most numerous inhabitants of the sea: tiny haptophytes of the type Emiliania huxleyi. Not visible to the naked eye, when they are in bloom in spring, they form square kilometer sized patches, they are even visible on satellite images. "Together with other phytoplankton, Emiliania huxleyi is responsible for approximately half of the global photosynthesis output," states Prof. Dr. Georg Pohnert of the Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany). In the process the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide CO2 is extracted from the atmosphere and oxygen is set free. "Additionally the microalgae use CO2 to produce tiny calcified discs which re-enforce their outer skin," the chair for Instrumental Analysis and Bio-organic Analysis continues. Thus the unicellular algae are a decisive factor for a stable world climate.

However the annual bloom of Emiliania huxleyi regularly comes to a rapid ending: the algae are massively affected by viruses and thus die off. Until now it remained unclear exactly how the viruses killed the algae. But together with scientists of the Weizman Institute in Israel the team around Prof. Pohnert has now analyzed the complex interaction between the algae and the viruses. In the science magazine 'The Plant Cell' the researchers describe how they could clarify the molecular mechanisms of the relationship between the virus and the algae, which crucially influences the food chain of the oceans. (DOI: 10.1105/tpc.114.125641).

To find this out, the researchers infected algae in controlled conditions in a laboratory and afterwards analyzed the whole metabolism of the microalgae. "The viruses intervene massively with the metabolism of the algae," Pohnert sums up the results. So for instance they use chemical components of the algae to multiply themselves, because for viruses replication is only possible with the active help of a host organism. "The viruses prompt the algae
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Contact: Ute Schoenfelder
presse@uni-jena.de
Friedrich-Schiller-Universitaet Jena
Source:Eurekalert  

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