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The Arctic Ocean: a "hot spot" of viral diversity

Tara Océans

A study on novel data collected largely by the Tara Oceans expedition1 has provided the most complete catalog to date of the viruses present in the world's oceans, increasing the number of known marine virus populations from 16,000 to nearly 200,000. Published as the cover article in the 16 May 2019 edition of Cell, the work revealed the key role of the Arctic Ocean as a reservoir for marine viruses. The study's results will become a cornerstone for understanding the role of viruses in oceanic responses to climate change.

Published on 25 April 2019
A study headed by researchers from Ohio State University in partnership with Genoscope (IBFJ) and published in the 16 May 2019 edition of Cell2 has increased the number of known oceanic viral populations from 16,000 to nearly 200,000.

These populations act particularly in the transport of carbons from the ocean's surface to its bed ("biological pump"). Thus, their identification is vital, as is understanding their functions, dynamics and roles within the oceanic ecosystem.
Carried out collaboratively with the countries bordering the Arctic Ocean, the work included samples collected by the schooner Tara during its 2013 circumnavigation of the Arctic ice pack, a region greatly affected by current climate change. DNA analyses enabled the documentation of viral populations. Data collection was extended as well to the earth's other oceans and to previously unexplored depths.
By developing new methods to sequence viral genomes within planktonic populations, the researchers were able to study genetic variations:
• between individuals within each viral population;
• between populations within each viral community;
• between communities over a number of world ocean environments, and furthermore the forces driving these variations.

The results of the study suggest that the Arctic Ocean is a "hot spot" for viral biodiversity, and in turn underline the importance of the Arctic regions—where climate change is wreaking havoc —for global biodiversity.
This study was supported particularly by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Investissements d’Avenir project Oceanomics and France Génomique.

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