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Tiniest catch: University of Arizona scientists' fishing expedition reveals viral diversity in the sea
Date:7/17/2014

en environment or ecosystem formed a continuum," Sullivan said. "In other words, the lines between different types of viruses appeared blurred, which prevented scientists who wanted to assess the diversity of viruses in the wild from recognizing and counting distinct types of viruses when they sampled for them."

"Microbes are now recognized as drivers of the biogeochemical engines that fuel Earth, and the viruses that infect them control these processes by transferring genes between microbes, killing them in great numbers and reprogramming their metabolisms," explained the first author of the study, Li Deng, a former postdoctoral researcher in Sullivan's lab who now is a research scientist at the Helmholtz Research Center for Environmental Health in Neuherberg, Germany. "Our study for the first time provides the methodology needed to match viruses to their host microbes at scales relevant to nature."

Getting a grip on the diversity of viruses infecting a particular host is critical beyond environmental sciences, Deng said, and has implications for understanding how viruses affect pathogens that cause human disease, which in turn is relevant for vaccine design and antiviral drug therapy.

Sullivan estimates that up to 99 percent of microbes that populate the oceans and drive global processes such as nutrient cycles and climate have not yet been cultivated in the lab, which makes their viruses similarly inaccessible.

"For the first time we can count virus types," he explained, "and we can ask questions like, 'Which virus is more abundant in one environment than another?' Further, the genomic data gives us a way to infer what a virus might do to its bacterial host."

The study benefited from collaboration with Joshua Weitz, an associate professor and theoretical ecologist from the Georgia Institute of Technology who spent time as a visiting researcher in the Sullivan lab.

The new data help scientists like Weitz deve
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Contact: Daniel Stolte
stolte@email.arizona.edu
520-626-4402
University of Arizona
Source:Eurekalert  

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