A fishing expedition of microscopic proportions led by University of Arizona ecologists revealed that the lines between virus types in nature are less blurred than previously thought.
Using lab-cultured bacteria as "bait," a team of scientists led by Matthew Sullivan has sequenced complete and partial genomes of about 10 million viruses from an ocean water sample in a single experiment.
This is an electron microscopy image of a virus sample collected during a research cruise with the 'Western Flyer' off the coast of Monterey Bay, California.
Credit: Sullivan lab
The study, published online on July 14 by the journal Nature, revealed that the genomes of viruses in natural ecosystems fall into more distinct categories than previously thought. This enables scientists to recognize actual populations of viruses in nature for the first time.
"You could count the number of viruses from a soil or water sample in a microscope, but you would have no idea what hosts they infect or what their genomes were like," said Sullivan, an associate professor in the UA's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and member of the UA's BIO5 Institute.
"Our new approach for the first time links those same viruses to their host cells. In doing so, we gain access to viral genomes in a way that opens up a window into the roles these viruses play in nature."
Sullivan's team developed a new approach called viral tagging, which uses cultivated bacterial hosts as "bait" to fish for viruses that infect that host. The scientists then isolate the DNA of those viruses and decipher their sequence.
"Instead of a continuum, we found at least 17 distinct types of viruses in a single sample of Pacific Ocean seawater, including several that are new to science – all associated with the single 'bait' host used in the experiment," Sullivan said.
The research lays the groundwork for a genome-based system of identifying virus populations, which is fundamental for studying the ecology and evolution of viruses in nature.
"Before our study, the prevailing view was that the genome sequences of viruses in a given environment or ecosystem formed a continuum," Sullivan said. "In other words, the lines between different types of viruses appeared blurred, which prevented scientists who wanted to assess the diversity of viruses in the wild from recognizing and counting distinct types of viruses when they sampled for them."
"Microbes are now recognized as drivers of the biogeochemical engines that fuel Earth, and the viruses that infect them control these processes by transferring genes between microbes, killing them in great numbers and reprogramming their metabolisms," explained the first author of the study, Li Deng, a former postdoctoral researcher in Sullivan's lab who now is a research scientist at the Helmholtz Research Center for Environmental Health in Neuherberg, Germany. "Our study for the first time provides the methodology needed to match viruses to their host microbes at scales relevant to nature."
Getting a grip on the diversity of viruses infecting a particular host is critical beyond environmental sciences, Deng said, and has implications for understanding how viruses affect pathogens that cause human disease, which in turn is relevant for vaccine design and antiviral drug therapy.
Sullivan estimates that up to 99 percent of microbes that populate the oceans and drive global processes such as nutrient cycles and climate have not yet been cultivated in the lab, which makes their viruses similarly inaccessible.
"For the first time we can count virus types," he explained, "and we can ask questions like, 'Which virus is more abundant in one environment than another?' Further, the genomic data gives us a way to infer what a virus might do to its bacterial host."
The study benefited from collaboration with Joshua Weitz, an associate professor and theoretical ecologist from the Georgia Institute of Technology who spent time as a visiting researcher in the Sullivan lab.
The new data help scientists like Weitz develop new concepts and theories about how viruses and bacteria interact in nature.
"This new method provides incredibly novel sequence data on viruses linked to a particular host," Weitz explained. "The work is foundational for developing a means to count genome-based populations that serve as starting material for predictive models of how viruses interact with their host microbes. We can now map viral populations with their genomes, providing information about who they are and what they do."
The study, "Viral tagging reveals discrete populations in Synechococcus viral genome sequence space," was co-first authored by Cesar Ignacio-Espinoza, a doctoral candidate in molecular and cellular biology; Ann Gregory, a doctoral candidate in soil, water and environmental sciences; and Bonnie Poulos, assistant research scientist in cecology and evolutionary biology. In addition to Weitz, co-authors not at the UA include Georgia and Philip Hugenholtz of the Australian Centre for Ecogenomics at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.
The research paper is online at http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature13459.html
Daniel Stolte | Eurek Alert!
Dispersal of Fish Eggs by Water Birds – Just a Myth?
19.02.2018 | Universität Basel
Removing fossil fuel subsidies will not reduce CO2 emissions as much as hoped
08.02.2018 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
At the Hannover Messe 2018, the Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und-prüfung (BAM) will show how, in the future, astronauts could produce their own tools or spare parts in zero gravity using 3D printing. This will reduce, weight and transport costs for space missions. Visitors can experience the innovative additive manufacturing process live at the fair.
Powder-based additive manufacturing in zero gravity is the name of the project in which a component is produced by applying metallic powder layers and then...
Physicists at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics, which is jointly run by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, have developed a high-power laser system that generates ultrashort pulses of light covering a large share of the mid-infrared spectrum. The researchers envisage a wide range of applications for the technology – in the early diagnosis of cancer, for instance.
Molecules are the building blocks of life. Like all other organisms, we are made of them. They control our biorhythm, and they can also reflect our state of...
University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.
Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.
Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.
Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...
Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.
The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
09.04.2018 | Event News
24.04.2018 | Life Sciences
24.04.2018 | Materials Sciences
24.04.2018 | Trade Fair News