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Ocean plankton held hostage by pirate viruses

Viral infections could affect capture of a greenhouse gas

By
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.

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