A viral ocean

This is not my first post on marine viruses nor their incredible diversity and ecological importance. It is true that some “black sheep” have given a bad reputation to viruses, but the truth is that they are part of our ecosystems. This week, an article in the Cell journal corroborates it, highlighting its great abundance and identifying some of the most representative populations in marine ecosystems.

The “Tara Ocean” expedition @taraexpeditions, formed by a consortium of international laboratories, has just revealed the larger dataset of marine virome. Thanks to an exhaustive sampling, scientists were able to describe around 200,000 new viral populations, an increase of about 12 times what was previously known. And as if that weren’t enough, the study also revealed that two areas of the Arctic Ocean were viral biodiversity hotspots, which is surprising, as biodiversity is postulated to be much more abundant in the equatorial zones and to be impoverished towards the poles, a phenomenon known as a latitudinal biodiversity gradient. This viral abundance further reinforces the importance and concern for the Arctic, strongly impacted by climate change.

It is estimated that microorganisms -including viruses- represent 60% of ocean biomass, being key to the proper functioning of marine ecosystems. We know that biodiversity is associated with the oceans’ ability to produce food, maintain water quality and recover from external disturbances. Knowledge of biodiversity, including viruses, is therefore important for generate monitoring tools and improve our protective measures for these ecosystems on which we all depend.