Science

Scientists On Sailboat Expedition Find Nearly 200000 Ocean Viruses

Scientists On Sailboat Expedition Find Nearly 200000 Ocean Viruses”

Led by the Ohio State University in the United States, this study, which involves teams from the CEA, CNRS, EMBL, ENS-PSL, and the Tara Foundation, associated within the new Tara Oceans Research Federation GO-SEE (1), brings the number of known oceanic viral populations from 16,000 to almost 200,000.

"Viruses are these tiny things that you can't even see, but because they're present in such huge numbers, they really matter", said Dr. Matthew Sullivan, a microbiologist at the Ohio State University.

In a study published in the journal Cell, researchers collect 145 marine samples from multiple expeditions on the Tara between 2009 and 2013, identifying 195,728 different viral populations.

With a complete working map of marine viral distribution, scientists can figure which viruses to focus on in future studies.

The researchers explored the genetic variation between individuals within each viral population, the level of variation between populations within each community, the level of variation between communities across multiple environments in the global ocean and the driving forces of all these variations. Begun in 2006, the Tara project aims to conduct unique and innovative ocean science with the goal of predicting and better anticipating the impacts of climate change. The researchers also discovered a surprising biodiversity hotspot in the Arctic Ocean, which runs counter to the general paradigm that species diversity is lowest near the poles and highest near the equator. The laboratories are part of a big team named Tara Oceans Consortium. In the current effort, a rotating team of scientists spent time on the boat collecting ocean water samples from different depths across many geographical regions.

The marine viral community is larger than many people believe.

"We filtered the samples to analyze organisms ranging in size from viruses to fish eggs", Dr. Sullivan said.

"In the last 20 years or so, we've learned that half of the oxygen that we breathe comes from marine organisms", Sullivan said.

More life below the surface of the water means more CO2 converted into organic carbon and biomass, stored deep in the sea - rather than CO2 acidifying the oceans, and killing off marine life along the way.

In addition to the prior research in the temperate and tropical oceans, this new work includes samples from the schooner's circumnavigation of the Arctic Ocean - the area most significantly impacted by climate change. In the oceans, that is linked to the oceans' ability to improve the environment by taking up human-produced carbon dioxide. That's a good result for helping mitigate human-induced climate change-and we're learning that viruses can help facilitate this sinking. Being able to identify more of them can teach us more about life itself, not just life underwater. "Previous ocean ecosystem models have commonly ignored microbes, and rarely included viruses", says Sullivan, "but we now know they are a vital component to include".

The study's two first authors were Ohio State graduate students Ann C. Gregory and Ahmed Zayed.



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