The Chesapeake Bay houses a huge diversity of fish, birds, plants, and mammals. But to understand this vital habitat, University of Delaware scientists studied its tiniest inhabitants -- viruses -- and found that they play an extremely important role in the workings of the ecosystem.
The research, published in the June 24 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at viral lysis, the process through which viruses invade and destroy cells (in this case, microbes such as bacteria). The 4.5-year study revealed that the occurrence of viral lysis on microbes follows seasonal patterns. Particularly of interest, the researchers found that it plays a disproportionally large role in the mortality of microbes in the wintertime.
“Every year you can go back and find approximately the same proportion of bacteria being killed by viruses, and it follows these really nice seasonal patterns,” said lead author Danielle Winget. “It shows viruses are a part of this ecosystem, and they’re actually alive and interacting and following the same patterns of other living things.”
Winget, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia, conducted the research for her doctoral dissertation at UD. Collaborating on the project was her adviser, Professor Eric Wommack, and several other members of his lab: former graduate students Rebekah Helton, Kurt Williamson and Shellie Bench, and former post-doctoral fellow Shannon Williamson.
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"Repeating patterns of virioplankton production within an estuarine ecosystem" (http://www.pnas.org/content/108/28/11506.abstract?sid=5f2760a7-bc08-4177-9c09-2d21beee3d04)