Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

A war without end, with Earth's carbon cycle held in the balance

Date:
February 13, 2013
Source:
Oregon State University
Summary:
The greatest battle in Earth's history has been going on for hundreds of millions of years, isn't over yet, and until now no one knew it existed, scientists say. It's between a bacterium that's the most abundant organism in the oceans and a previously unknown virus that infects it. The contest has significant implications for Earth's carbon balance.

This SAR11 bacterium is infected with a Pelagiphage virus.
Credit: Image courtesy of Oregon State University

The greatest battle in Earth's history has been going on for hundreds of millions of years -- it isn't over yet -- and until now no one knew it existed, scientists reported Feb. 13 in the journal Nature.

Related Articles


In one corner is SAR11, a bacterium that's the most abundant organism in the oceans, survives where most other cells would die and plays a major role in the planet's carbon cycle. It had been theorized that SAR11 was so small and widespread that it must be invulnerable to attack.

In the other corner, and so strange-looking that scientists previously didn't even recognize what they were, are "Pelagiphages," viruses now known to infect SAR11 and routinely kill millions of these cells every second. And how this fight turns out is of more than casual interest, because SAR11 has a huge effect on the amount of carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere, and the overall biology of the oceans.

"There's a war going on in our oceans, a huge war, and we never even saw it," said Stephen Giovannoni, a professor of microbiology at Oregon State University. "This is an important piece of the puzzle in how carbon is stored or released in the sea."

Researchers from OSU, the University of Arizona and other institutions have just outlined the discovery of this ongoing conflict, and its implications for the biology and function of ocean processes. The findings disprove the theory that SAR11 cells are immune to viral predation, researchers said.

"In general, every living cell is vulnerable to viral infection," said Giovannoni, who first discovered SAR11 in 1990. "What has been so puzzling about SAR11 was its sheer abundance; there was simply so much of it that some scientists believed it must not get attacked by viruses."

What the new research shows, Giovannoni said, is that SAR11 is competitive, good at scavenging organic carbon, and effective at changing to avoid infection. Because of that, it thrives and persists in abundance even though it's constantly being killed by the new viruses that have been discovered.

The discovery of the Pelagiphage viral families was made by Yanlin Zhao, Michael Schwalbach and Ben Temperton, OSU postdoctoral researchers working with Giovannoni. They used traditional research methods, growing cells and viruses from nature in a laboratory, instead of sequencing DNA from nature. The new viruses were so unique that computers could not recognize the virus DNA.

"The viruses themselves, of course, appear to be just as abundant as SAR11," Giovannoni said. "Our colleagues at the University of Arizona demonstrated this with new technologies they developed for measuring viral diversity."

SAR11 has several unique characteristics, including the smallest known genetic structure of any independent cell. Through sheer numbers, this microbe has a huge role in consuming organic carbon, which it uses to generate energy while producing carbon dioxide and water in the process. SAR11 recycles organic matter, providing the nutrients needed by algae to produce about half of the oxygen that enters Earth's atmosphere every day.

This carbon cycle ultimately affects all plant and animal life on Earth.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Oregon State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Yanlin Zhao, Ben Temperton, J. Cameron Thrash, Michael S. Schwalbach, Kevin L. Vergin, Zachary C. Landry, Mark Ellisman, Tom Deerinck, Matthew B. Sullivan, Stephen J. Giovannoni. Abundant SAR11 viruses in the ocean. Nature, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nature11921

Cite This Page:

Oregon State University. "A war without end, with Earth's carbon cycle held in the balance." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 February 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130213132323.htm>.
Oregon State University. (2013, February 13). A war without end, with Earth's carbon cycle held in the balance. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 21, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130213132323.htm
Oregon State University. "A war without end, with Earth's carbon cycle held in the balance." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130213132323.htm (accessed April 21, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Going Ape: Sierra Leone Chimpanzees Hail Ebola Retreat

Going Ape: Sierra Leone Chimpanzees Hail Ebola Retreat

AFP (Apr. 21, 2015) As money runs out at Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Sierra Leone, around 85 chimps are facing homelessness. The centre closed when the Ebola epidemic was ravaging the country but now that closure is beginning to look permanent. Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Blue Bell Recalls All Products

Blue Bell Recalls All Products

AP (Apr. 21, 2015) Blue Bell Creameries voluntary recalled for all of its products after two samples of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream tested positive for listeria, a potentially deadly bacteria. Blue Bell&apos;s President and CEO issued a video statement. (April 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Deepwater And Dolphins: The Oil Spill's Impact 5 Years On

Deepwater And Dolphins: The Oil Spill's Impact 5 Years On

Newsy (Apr. 20, 2015) Five years on, the possible environmental impact of the Deepwater Horizon spill includes a sustained die-off of bottlenose dolphins, among others. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Five Years Later, the BP Oil Spill Is Still Taking Its Toll

Five Years Later, the BP Oil Spill Is Still Taking Its Toll

AFP (Apr. 20, 2015) On April 20, 2010, an explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico started the biggest oil spill in US history. BP recently reported the Gulf is recovering well, but scientists paint a different picture. Duration: 02:36 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins