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Scientists Catalog Over 15,000 Distinct Viruses Living in World's Ocean

Sep 22, 2016 04:50 AM EDT
Ocean
A new study cataloged 15,222 new distinct types of viruses living in the world's ocean.
(Photo : Ed Giles/Getty Images)

A new study from the Ohio State University have tripled the known types of viruses living in oceans around the world, providing new insights on the role of viruses in marine environment.

The study, published in the journal Nature, has identified a total of 15,222 epipelagic and mesopelagic viral populations grouped into 867 viral clusters, which the researchers defined as approximately genus-level groups.

"Our work not only provides a relatively complete catalog of surface ocean viruses, but also reveals new ways that viruses modulate greenhouse gases and energy in the oceans," said Simon Roux, a postdoctoral researcher at Ohio State University's Department of Microbiology and lead author of the study, in a press release. "Because of this work anyone who studies viruses -- in humans, soil, the air will better know how to identify and classify what is there."

For the study, the researchers analyzed samples from three-year Tara Oceans Expedition and the Spanish-led Malaspina expedition. Using metagenomes, the researchers were able to catalog the viruses from the ocean, making it possible for them to find and group viruses that share similar qualities.

In humans and animals, viral infection is a health hazard due to the ability of the virus to disrupt healthy cell function. However, viruses in the environment, especially those living in the bodies of water, might actually be beneficial.

Researchers believe that about one in three cells in the ocean are infected with a virus, altering the way the cell behaves. Viruses play a crucial role in reducing the harmful algae blooms in oceans and lake. Furthermore, these viruses could also be used to mediate the effects of greenhouse gases to the environment.

With the present rate of scientific and technological advancement, scientists could even manipulate these viruses to mitigate climate change. As an example, scientists could fine-tune a virus to sink carbon into the deep ocean.

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