Sea Bugs

Ocean viruses can impact marine ecosystems in several ways.

By | July 1, 2013

View full size JPG | PDF© THOM GRAVES

VIRAL DISRUPTION: Viruses in the ocean can affect the marine ecosystem in a number of ways. First and foremost, viral killing of microbes could be as important in reducing the abundance of targeted lineages as are grazers, like protists and zooplankton. Furthermore, during the infection process, a virus can alter the host cell’s metabolism by increasing the rate of photosynthesis, for example, thereby changing the rate of carbon fixation. And when a virus causes host lysis, not only are new viral particles released, but so are the carbon and other organic nutrients that were trapped inside the cell. These materials then become available for utilization by nearby microbes, a potentially beneficial process known as viral priming. Finally, under certain conditions, a virus may become a long-term resident in its host cell, integrating its genomic material into that of its host to form a “lysogen.”

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