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Undersea warfare: Viruses hijack deep-sea bacteria at hydrothermal vents

e viruses may have snatched genes from SUP05 during an ancient microbial interaction.

"There seems to have been an exchange of genes, which implicates the viruses as an agent of evolution," Dick said.

All known life forms need a carbon source and an energy source. The energy drives the chemical reactions used to assemble cellular components from simple carbon-based compounds.

On Earth's surface, sunlight provides the energy that enables plants to remove carbon dioxide from the air and use it to build sugars and other organic molecules through the process of photosynthesis.

But there's no sunlight in the deep ocean, so microbes there often rely on alternate energy sources.

Instead of photosynthesis they depend on chemosynthesis. They synthesize organic compounds using energy derived from inorganic chemical reactions--in this case, reactions involving sulfur compounds.

Sulfur was likely one of the first energy sources that microbes learned to exploit on the young Earth, and it remains a driver of ecosystems found at deep-sea hydrothermal vents, in oxygen-starved "dead zones" and at Yellowstone-like hot springs.

Dick said the new microbial findings will help researchers understand how marine biogeochemical cycles, including the sulfur cycle, will respond to global environmental changes such as the ongoing expansion of dead zones.

SUP05 bacteria, which are known to generate the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, will likely expand their range as oxygen-starved zones continue to grow in the oceans.


Contact: Cheryl Dybas
National Science Foundation

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