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New study reveals how marine viruses can help mitigate climate change

Several of the 5,500 species of marine RNA viruses recently identified by scientists may help push absorbed carbon from the atmosphere into permanent storage at the ocean floor, according to a study. The results also suggest that a small percentage of the newly discovered species borrowed genes from the animals they infected, which could help researchers determine their putative hosts and their functions in marine processes. The research leads to a better understanding of the disproportionate impact of these tiny particles on the ocean ecosystem, in addition to mapping a wealth of fundamental ecological data.

These RNA viruses were discovered in plankton samples collected by the Tara Oceans Consortium, a global study on the impact of climate change on the ocean conducted aboard the schooner Tara. The effort aims to learn more about the organisms that live in the ocean and do most of the work of absorbing half of the human-generated carbon in the atmosphere and producing half of the oxygen. we breathe in order to predict how the ocean will react to climate change.

Although these marine viral species are not harmful to humans, they act like any other virus, infecting another organism and harnessing its cellular machinery to replicate. Although the consequence can always be negative for the host, the actions of a virus can have environmental benefits, such as helping to dissipate a dangerous algal bloom.

The results of the study have been published in the journal Science.

Further research uncovered 1,243 RNA virus species linked to carbon export. In order to promote the export of carbon to the depths of the ocean, 11 species have been implicated. Two viruses associated with algae as hosts were chosen as the most promising targets for further research.

Ahmed Zayed, microbiology researcher at Ohio State University and co-first author of the study, said: “The results are important for the development of models and for predicting what is happening with carbon in the right direction and to the right magnitude.

Another professor, Matthew Sullivan, said that as people put more carbon into the atmosphere, researchers relied on the vast buffering capacity of the ocean to contain climate change.

Sullivan added that they were looking for viruses that could adapt to more digestible carbon, allowing the system to grow, produce larger cells and eventually sink. And if it sinks, humans will be spared the harshest effects of climate change for another few hundred or thousand years.

To identify possible hosts, the researchers used a combination of methods, first inferring the host from the classification of viruses in the context of marine plankton, then generating predictions based on how the amounts of viruses and hosts co-vary since their abundance depends on one another. The third technique was to look for signs of incorporation of RNA viruses into cellular genomes.

While most dsDNA viruses infect bacteria and archaea, which are prevalent in the ocean, this recent study found that RNA viruses primarily infect fungi and microbial eukaryotes, as well as invertebrates to a lesser extent. . Only a small percentage of marine RNA viruses are able to infect bacteria.


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