Viral Ecology and Biogeochemical Impacts in Marine Oxygen Minimum Zones

Minimum oxygen concentration throughout the world’s oceans; stars indicate study locations. (Image modified from Wright et al., 2012, Nat Rev Microbiol)

Marine oxygen minimum zones (OMZs) are regions of the world’s oceans that have low or no oxygen. Often referred to as “dead zones” because of their lack of larger organisms, OMZs actually support specific microbial communities adapted to survive in these low-oxygen regions. These microbes perform metabolic processes that produce greenhouse gases such as methane, and significantly alter global nitrogen budgets. In turn, viruses can alter every aspect of microbial communities by causing mortality and altering microbial functions; yet we know little regarding how viruses affect OMZ ecosystems, which is limiting our ability to predict future changes to the Earth system as these OMZs expand over time. Our research seeks to fill this knowledge gap by examining the types of viruses that are present in 7 globally-distributed OMZs, as well as how these viruses alter microbial communities and their impact on global processes.

Associated funding: “Ecology and Biogeochemical Impacts of Viruses in Marine Oxygen Minimum Zones”; National Science Foundation, Biological Oceanography

Collaborators: To accomplish our goals, we are working with an amazing group of researchers from around the globe, including Dr. Simon Roux at the DOE Joint Genome Institute, Dr. Frank Stewart at Georgia Institute of Technology, Dr. Steven Hallam at University of British Columbia, Dr. Virginia Edgcomb at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Dr. Gordon Taylor at Stony Brook University, Dr. Osvaldo Ulloa at University of Concepcion, Dr. Matthew Sullivan at Ohio State University, and Dr. Christopher Algar at Dalhousie University.


Viral Ecology in Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vent Systems

DSCN6037_lowresHydrothermal vents are fascinating features on the sea floor that have global effects on the chemistry of our oceans. They are also thought to be the location of the origin of life on our planet and may serve the same purpose elsewhere within the universe. With their unique chemical and physical conditions, hydrothermal vents are home to an astounding array of life deep in the ocean, with chemosynthetic microbes occupying the base of the food web. We seek to investigate the composition of viral communities that occur in these hydrothermal vent systems on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and understand how they affect microbial community structure and function.

Associated funding: “Elucidating Viral ‘Dark Matter’ and Biogeochemical Impacts in Extreme Environments”; DOE Joint Genome Institute, Community Sequencing Program

Collaborators: While this project is in the early stages, we are currently collaborating with Dr. Matthew Sullivan at Ohio State University and Dr. Nicole Dubilier at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology who was the chief scientist on the research cruise and gave us this amazing opportunity to investigate hydrothermal vent viruses.