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Bacteria Make a Cozy Home for Viruses in the Deep Sea

NSF Award:

Metagenomic Exploration of Virus-host Interactions in Deep-sea Hydrothermal Vent Environments  (University of Delaware)

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Scientists from the University of Delaware and the J. Craig Venter Institute in San Diego, have discovered abundant and diverse communities of viruses in deep-sea hydrothermal vents, a normally inhospitable environment. They discovered that many of these viruses reside within bacterial cells, a departure from the behavior of viruses in other environments.

Because viruses can significantly alter the biological characteristics of their hosts, the deep-sea vent viruses may be intimately involved in helping bacteria cope with the challenging conditions of their environment. DNA sequence data from this project may reveal thousands of new genes and protein groups and possibly entirely new viral families. This novel information may spur new breakthroughs in biology, biotechnology and other critical fields.

Viruses are the most abundant of all biological entities. Lined end-to-end, the world's viruses would form a chain 10 million light years long--a distance encompassing the nearest 60 galaxies. Nearly all of these viruses infect microbes and have the potential to alter the important ecosystem services that microbes provide.

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  • tube worms next to black smoker
  • tube worms and sampling platform
Giant tube worms next to black smoker.
NASA
Giant tube worms and the sampling platform on the East Pacific Rise.
Eric Wommack, University of Delaware

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