Revealing Virus-Host Interplay

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Science  01 Jul 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6038, pp. 45-46
DOI: 10.1126/science.1208557

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Discoveries made by environmental virologists during the past decade or so have revolutionized our perception of the living world. It has become apparent that viruses are the most abundant living entities on Earth, outnumbering their hosts by an order of magnitude. The vast majority of viruses infect microbes, but many infect humans, making each one of us a platform for a complex microbial community. Researchers now recognize viruses as major players in small- and global-scale ecosystems (1), boosting their interest in studying virus-host interactions (2). Our inability to cultivate the vast majority (>99%) of microbes under laboratory conditions, however, has limited study of these interactions. We still do not know the hosts of most viruses. On page 58 of this issue, Tadmor et al. (3) take a considerable step toward overcoming this limitation, reporting on an approach to identifying virus hosts that does not require the culturing of viruses or host microbes. The approach, which features a genetic-analysis technology called microfluidic digital polymerase chain reaction (PCR), adds to recent developments in culture-independent, high-throughput technologies (4, 5) that promise to provide a revealing picture of dynamic host-virus relationships.