Sulfur Oxidation Genes in Diverse Deep-Sea Viruses

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Science  01 May 2014:
DOI: 10.1126/science.1252229

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Viruses are the most abundant biological entities in the oceans and a pervasive cause of mortality of microorganisms that drive biogeochemical cycles. Although the ecological and evolutionary impacts of viruses on marine phototrophs are well-recognized, little is known about their impact on ubiquitous marine lithotrophs. Here we report 18 genome sequences of double-stranded DNA viruses that putatively infect widespread sulfur-oxidizing bacteria. Fifteen of these viral genomes contain auxiliary metabolic genes for the alpha and gamma subunits of reverse dissimilatory sulfite reductase (rdsr). This enzyme oxidizes elemental sulfur, which is abundant in the hydrothermal plumes studied here. Our findings implicate viruses as a key agent in the sulfur cycle and as a reservoir of genetic diversity for bacterial enzymes that underpin chemosynthesis in the deep oceans.

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