Oceans with viruses, north to south pole and up to 4000 meters deep
The oceans contain almost 200,000 different virus populations according to the latest figures. Marine viruses were detected at a depth of up to 4000 m and from north to south. While most people are harmless, they can infect marine life, including whales and crustaceans.
And scientists just began to understand how these small organisms play a role in marine life and chemistry.
Researchers at Ohio State University created a global map of marine viruses based on marine water samples from nearly 80 sites worldwide. Their viral concentration is almost 12 times higher than before.
They were surprised to find that viruses fall into only five groups based on their location and depth.
"When we tested the viral genes in each of these communities, we discovered evidence of genetic adaptation to different ocean areas," said researcher Ann Gregory, who is now UU Leuven in Belgium.
The second surprise was that the Arctic Ocean had many different viruses. The hotspots of microbial diversity were thought to be in the equator.
One liter of sea water usually contains billions of viruses – most of them remain unidentified. In the latest data set, 90% of the population could not be classified as a known group.
Better knowledge of ocean viruses is important because they affect other marine microbes, including bacteria and fungi.
Viruses affect all other small marine organisms, such as plankton, which produces more than half of the oxygen we breathe and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
"Without microbes, Earth, its oceans and even our human bodies stop," said Matthew Sullivan of Ohio State University. "Our lab helps researchers finally" see "the hidden viruses that infect these germs."
The study is reported in Cell. Most of its data comes from the Tara Ocean Expedition (2009/2013), using the 36 m aluminum hull research cell Tare.