Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Viruses Rule the Deep Sea

In the Scientist newsblog;
Viruses in the deepest ocean environments are unexpectedly strong regulators of the deep sea biosphere, according to a paper published tomorrow (August 28) in Nature.

By infecting and killing bacteria and other prokaryotes viruses are the main producers of the organic matter that sustains life at 1000 meters deep and below. By generating this biomass, viruses also make major contributions to the carbon cycle and other geochemical processes.

"This shows that a very large amount of the carbon that reaches the sea floor is going through pathways that were commonly thought to be relatively minor," said Jed Fuhrman, an ocean biologist at the University of Southern California who was not involved in the study. "The whole idea that viruses have any significance in marine systems is only 15 to 20 years old."

Approximately 65% of the Earth is dominated by deep sea, or benthic, ecosystems. The sea floor is one of the hardest environments for research, Fuhrman explained, because of the distances and logistical challenges involved in conducting experiments.
While I've known for years about the role of viruses in the regulation of the atmosphere (why else you think there's a cold and flu *season*?) It comes as a bit of a surprise to have my mind opened even wider to the fact of deep and profound symbiosis in the ocean depths proceeding even to the extreme ends of biogenesis. Does one even classify virii as living organisms?

Methanogens have existed for billions of years, and according to a living planet climate theory, have modulated climate despite a variety of changing conditions. Biogenesis and nucleotide sorting in cloud parasols is one thing, but to take it from end to end in ocean basins, while not altogether surprising, is nevertheless a surprise.