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North Sea virus

Helgoland is Germany’s only true offshore island, known for its seabirds, seals and duty-free shops rather than viruses. But these were exactly the focus of MPI researchers. Credits: Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Naomi Esken

New research provides exciting insights into the life of marine viruses in the North Sea during the spring flowering season. Off the island off the coast of Helgoland, researchers led by Nina Baltrau of the Maxplank Institute for Marine Microbiology have found dynamics that can have a strong impact on North Sea bacterial mortality and thus the carbon cycle of this habitat. I found a great virus community. They also discovered and isolated a number of new viral species.


On average, hundreds of thousands of small algae and billions of bacteria live in each liter of North Sea water. There are also 10 billion viruses per liter, as if that weren’t enough. They are primarily infected with bacteria and have a large and diverse impact on the environment, for example by killing and spoiling infected cells and altering gene expression and genetic material. Currently, research provides new insights into the lives of these viruses.

“Despite its importance, viruses are rarely the focus of marine research,” said Nina Bartlau, lead author of the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology. “As far as I know, here is the first study of the flavobacterium virus, the most common spring-blooming bacterium in the North Sea.”

Many new viruses have been discovered

Researchers have discovered many new and highly diverse phages in the North Sea. Phage is a virus that infects bacteria. Therefore, the virus studied here, which specializes in infecting flavobacterium, is called flavophage. “The amount and type of phage changed during spring flowering. For example, only a few phages were found at the beginning of flowering, but the amount increased over time. Only certain phage species are present. We were also able to show that, for a short period of time, only their relatives remained, “explains Christina Moral, co-author of the Institute for Marine Environmental Chemistry and Biology at the University of Oldenburg. But over the years, the viral community has been very stable. We were able to find and isolate various phages for the second consecutive year.

North Sea virus

Bacteriophage (a virus that infects bacteria) usually has a so-called head and tail, from which small spikes protrude like small feet. The virus, called Peter Nera in this electron micrograph, is about 150 nanometers long, or about one-500th the thickness of human hair. Credit: Georg Krohne

Bartlau and her colleagues have thus collected a lot of evidence to show that: The virus has a significant impact on bacterial mortality during the spring flowering period. Bacteria play a role in breaking down fine algae debris during the flowering process. It releases most of the carbon dioxide absorbed by the algae from the atmosphere. “Here, with a virus World carbon cycle, This is certainly very exciting to investigate, “says Bartlau.

North Sea virus

High numbers: Small viruses are clustered around bacteria, which are much larger hosts. About 10 to 45 percent of bacteria in seawater are infected with the virus. Credit: Georg Krohne

Still in the lab

Researchers have also succeeded in culturing a variety of previously unknown viruses in Bremen’s lab. “We have identified 10 new genera and 10 new families,” says Bartlau. Many of them (9 out of 10 genera to be exact, 4 out of 10 families to be exact) did not previously exist in culture. “These new isolates are now enabling exciting experiments in the lab and deepening our knowledge of the role of viruses in flavophages and the ocean,” Bartlau emphasizes. And this knowledge goes far beyond marine habitats. This is because some of the virus families isolated here live in freshwater, sewage, and soil.

The study was published in ISME journal..


Bacteria and viruses: a network of intestinal relationships


For more information:
Nina Bartlau et al, a highly diverse flavo bacteriophage isolated from spring flowers in the North Sea, ISME journal (2021). DOI: 10.1038 / s41396-021-01097-4

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Max Planck Society

Quote: The North Sea virus (September 14, 2021) was obtained from https://phys.org/news/2021-09-viruses-north-sea.html on September 15, 2021.

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