Viruses modulate microbial communities and alter ecosystem functions. However, due to cultivation bottlenecks, specific virus–host interaction dynamics remain cryptic. In this study, we examined 127 single-cell amplified genomes (SAGs) from uncultivated SUP05 bacteria isolated from a model marine oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) to identify 69 viral contigs representing five new genera within dsDNA Caudovirales and ssDNA Microviridae. Infection frequencies suggest that ∼1/3 of SUP05 bacteria is viral-infected, with higher infection frequency where oxygen-deficiency was most severe. Observed Microviridae clonality suggests recovery of bloom-terminating viruses, while systematic co-infection between dsDNA and ssDNA viruses posits previously unrecognized cooperation modes. Analyses of 186 microbial and viral metagenomes revealed that SUP05 viruses persisted for years, but remained endemic to the OMZ. Finally, identification of virus-encoded dissimilatory sulfite reductase suggests SUP05 viruses reprogram their host's energy metabolism. Together, these results demonstrate closely coupled SUP05 virus–host co-evolutionary dynamics with the potential to modulate biogeochemical cycling in climate-critical and expanding OMZs.
Microorganisms help to drive a number of processes that recycle energy and nutrients, including elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur, around the Earth's ecosystems. Viruses that infect microbes can also affect these cycles by killing and breaking open microbial cells, or by reprogramming the cell's metabolism. However, as there are many different species of microbes and viruses —the vast majority of which cannot easily be grown in the laboratory— little is known about most virus–host interactions in natural ecosystems, especially in the oceans.
In the world's oceans, the concentration of oxygen dissolved in the water changes in different regions and at different depths. ‘Oxygen minimum zones’ occur globally throughout the oceans at depths of 200–1000 meters, and climate change is causing these zones to expand and intensify. Although a lack of oxygen is sometimes considered detrimental to living organisms, oxygen minimum zones appear to be rich with microbial life that is adapted to thrive under oxygen-starved conditions.
Sulfur-oxidizing bacteria are one of the most abundant groups of microbes in these oxygen minimum zones, and several of these bacteria are known to influence the recycling of chemical substances. Now, Roux et al. introduce a new method to identify viruses that infect the microbes in this environment, including those microbes that cannot be grown in the laboratory and which have previously remained largely unexplored.
The genomes of 127 individual bacterial cells —collected from an oxygen minimum zone in western Canada— were examined. Roux et al. estimate that about a third of the sulfur-oxidizing bacterial cells are infected by at least one virus, but often multiple viruses infected the same bacterium. Five new genera (groups of one or more species) of viruses were also discovered and found to infect these bacteria. Looking for these new viral sequences in the DNA of this oxygen minimum zone's microbial community revealed that these newly discovered viruses persist in this region over several years. It also revealed that these viruses appear to only be found within the oxygen minimum zone. Roux et al. uncovered that these viruses carry genes that could manipulate how an infected bacterium processes sulfur-containing compounds; this is similar to previous observations showing that other viruses also influence cellular process (such as photosynthesis) in infected bacteria. As such, these newly discovered viruses might also influence the recycling of chemical elements within oxygen minimum zones.
Together, Roux et al.'s findings provide an unprecedented look into a wild virus community using a method that can be generalized to uncover viruses in a data type that is quickly becoming more widespread: single cell genomes. This effort to understand virus–host interactions by looking in the genomes of individual cells now sets the stage for future efforts aimed to uncover the impact of viruses on bacteria in other environments across the globe.