Sulfur Oxidation Genes in Diverse Deep-Sea Viruses

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Science  16 May 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6185, pp. 757-760
DOI: 10.1126/science.1252229

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Virus-Enhanced Sulfur Oxidation

How do microbial viruses affect subsurface microbial communities? Anantharaman et al. (p. 757, published online 1 May) investigated the interactions between ubiquitous marine lithotrophs found at hydrothermal vents and their viruses. The genes for sulfur oxidation in viruses that infect abundant marine chemosynthetic sulfur-oxidizing bacteria enhanced sulfur oxidation, thereby influencing the biogeochemical sulfur cycle.


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 effects 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 α and γ 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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