Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, in the seas are as vital to the survival of life on earth as the oxygen producing plants are on land. But marine bacteria are attacked by viruses, which can seriously affect their life-sustaining abilities. Scientists have now discovered that these viruses don’t work in the dark, according to research presented today (Monday, 04 April 2005) at the Society for General Microbiology’s 156th Meeting at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.
Our earth’s breathable atmosphere relies on millions and millions of cyanobacteria in the seas absorbing the sun’s light and giving off oxygen, in exactly the same way as the photosynthetic plants and forests on land act as the other part of the planet’s lungs. The marine dwelling cyanobacteria are at the bottom of the food-web, using sunlight to produce oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide, giving them food to grow and multiply.
But the whole delicate balance of the seas, and so the overall fate of the planet, relies on even smaller microbes called cyanophages - marine viruses that specifically attack and infect cyanobacteria. These phages can seriously damage the health of the cyanobacteria, and also the sea.
Faye Jones | alfa
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