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Ocean archaea more vulnerable to deep-sea viruses than bacteria

Deadly attacks boost microbes’ role in carbon, nutrient cycles

By
4:35pm, October 12, 2016
deep-sea environment

SPILLING THEIR GUTS  Deep-sea archaea, found in seafloor sediment, are more vulnerable to virus attacks than their bacteria neighbors, new research suggests. Those killing sprees release a substantial amount of carbon and other nutrients into local marine environments.

Deep-sea viruses aren’t just dealers of disease; they’re crucial players in Earth’s nutrient cycles. In marine sediments, virus assassinations of single-celled life-forms called archaea play a much larger role in carbon and other chemical cycles than previously thought, new research suggests. For instance, those microbial murders release as much as 500 million metric tons of carbon annually worldwide, researchers report online October 12 in Science Advances.

Viruses are a major killer of bacteria and archaea in the deep sea, busting open infected cells like water balloons and spewing the cells’ innards. To find the relative number of massacred microbes, marine ecologist Roberto Danovaro of Polytechnic University of Marche in Ancona, Italy, and colleagues studied the spilled guts of the viruses’ victims.

Tallying the number of archaeal versus bacterial genes released

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