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

to produce exactly the molecular components which they, the viruses, need for themselves," Pohnert says. As early as one hour after the beginning of the infection the viruses completely turned the metabolism of the algae upside down. The algae then increase the production of certain sphingolipids, which the viruses need to multiply. After a few hours the infected algae burst and each one sets free about 500 new viruses.

But the micro algae don't succumb to their fate without a fight, as the scientists were able to show in their new study. "They fight back by drastically reducing the biosynthesis of so-called terpenes," Pohnert explains. The viruses also rely on these hydrocarbons. If their production is switched off by so-called inhibitors in model experiments, the production of viruses decreases distinctly.

The Jena researchers and their Israeli colleagues are now planning to double-check their results from the laboratory in real life in the sea. Emiliania huxleyi and its viruses thereby serve as a model system to better our understanding of the marine food chain. Until recently, the food web of the oceans was mostly considered a linear organization, according to Prof. Pohnert: Algae, which store solar energy and combine with CO2, are the basic food resource for small animals and fish, which in turn are being eaten by bigger fish. The viruses however create a kind of 'short circuit' in this chain. "Thus the viruses divert a substantial part of the whole fixed carbon from the food chain as we know it so far, and supply deep sea bacteria with it," Pohnert says. Which consequences this will have for other organisms in the sea and the whole ecological system will be shown by future studies.


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Contact: Ute Schoenfelder
presse@uni-jena.de
Friedrich-Schiller-Universitaet Jena
Source:Eurekalert  

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