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Ocean plankton held hostage by pirate viruses

Viral infections could affect capture of a greenhouse gas

1:18pm, June 9, 2016
Synechococcus cyanobacteria

DON’T GET SICK  Some of the most important unsung microbes, Synechococcus cyanobacteria, are among the most prolific photosynthesizers on Earth — until they catch a virus.

When plankton on the high seas catch a cold, the whole ocean may sneeze. Viruses hijacking these microbes could be an important overlooked factor in tracing how living things trap — or in this case, fail to trap — the climate-warming gas carbon dioxide.

Plants and other organisms that photosynthesize use energy from the sun to capture CO2 for food. The most abundant of these photosynthesizers on the planet are marine cyanobacteria with hardly any name recognition: Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus.

Now, for the first time, a study looks in detail at what happens when some of the abundant viruses found in the sea infect these microbes. Two viruses tested in the lab hijacked cell metabolism, allowing photosynthesis to continue but shunting the captured energy to virus reproduction. The normal use of that energy, capturing CO2, largely shuts down, David Scanlan of

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