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Deep-sea viruses and bacteria battle beneath the waves

May 01, 2014

Deep-sea viruses and bacteria battle beneath the waves

Bacteria living near inhospitable hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor are challenged by infection by viruses, say University of Michigan researchers. The viruses hijack the molecular machinery of the bacteria for their own rapid reproduction.

The bacteria that live near hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor deal with bone-crushing pressures and noxious plumes of sulfurous water at temperatures above 500 degrees Fahrenheit. As if this environment were not inhospitable enough, scientists at the University of Michigan recently discovered that these bacteria must also battle a group of viruses eager to hijack their molecular machinery for selfish ends.

The microbiologists traveled to the western Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California, collecting samples from over 6,000 feet deep using an unmanned submarine from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. By sequencing the bits of DNA found near the ocean floor, they determined that a common sulfur-consuming bacterium called SUP05 was accompanied by five predatory viruses previously unknown to science. Although viruses commonly prey on marine bacteria, they had never been found in chemosynthetic organisms, which use mineral compounds for energy instead of light.

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