Marine Microbiology

A virus that enslaves ocean algae

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Science  11 Jul 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6193, pp. 176
DOI: 10.1126/science.345.6193.176-a

Satellite image of Emiliania huxleyi blooms in the Barents Sea

PHOTO: JEFF SCHMALTZ/MODIS RAPID RESPONSE TEAM/ASA GSFC

The algal blooms that flourish near the ocean surface feed ecosystems and remove carbon from the atmosphere. But algal blooms can get sick. Rosenwasser et al. studied metabolism and gene transcription in the coccolithophore Emiliania huxleyi and a virus that attacks it. They found that the virus hijacked the algae's metabolic pathway and used it to build more virus particles. The virus carries information for its own lipid biosynthetic pathway. No shrinking violet, this physically large virus shut down and supplanted the parallel metabolic pathway in its algal host, forcing the algae to synthesize lipids that the virus needed. The host, deprived of its own lipids, faded into oblivion, sinking into the ocean and taking its resident carbon with it.

Plant Cell 10.1105/tpc.114.125641 (2014).

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