New viruses found in the waters of the North Sea

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology have conducted a new study that reveals more about the life of marine viruses in the North Sea during the spring bloom. In the course of their work, experts discovered many new viruses.

A team of researchers led by Nina Bartlau of the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology has discovered a dynamic viral community off the coastal island of Helgoland in the North Sea. It turned out that it can strongly influence the mortality of bacteria in the region and, consequently, the carbon cycle of the aquatic habitat. Also, scientists have discovered and isolated many new types of viruses.

On average, every liter of North Sea water is home to hundreds of thousands of tiny algae and a billion bacteria, and ten billion viruses. They primarily infect bacteria and have a wide and varied impact on the environment. They kill infected cells and cause them to decay by altering gene expression or genetic material. The study is now providing a fresh perspective on the life of these viruses.

“Despite their importance, viruses are rarely the subject of marine research,” says first author Nina Bartlau of the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology.

In the course of the work, scientists have discovered many new and diverse phages in the North Sea. Phages are viruses that infect bacteria. Those that specialize in infecting flavobacteria are called flavophages.

Biologists have shown that viruses have a great effect on the death of bacteria during spring flowering. The bacteria are responsible for breaking down microscopic algae debris. This releases the carbon dioxide absorbed by the algae from the atmosphere. In the future, scientists will study the link between viruses and the global carbon cycle.

Researchers have also cultured many previously unknown viruses in the laboratory. “We have identified ten new genera as well as ten new families,” says Bartlau. – Nine out of ten genera and four out of ten families did not exist in culture before. These new isolates will be useful for laboratory experiments to expand our knowledge of flavophages and the role of viruses in the ocean.”

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Alexandr Ivanov earned his Licentiate Engineer in Systems and Computer Engineering from the Free International University of Moldova. Since 2013, Alexandr has been working as a freelance web programmer.
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