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1.  Ecology and evolution of viruses infecting uncultivated SUP05 bacteria as revealed by single-cell- and meta-genomics 
eLife  null;3:e03125.
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.
eLife digest
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.
PMCID: PMC4164917  PMID: 25171894
SUP05; bacteriophages; viruses; single cell genomics; oxygen minimum zone; viral dark matter; other
2.  Contrasting Life Strategies of Viruses that Infect Photo- and Heterotrophic Bacteria, as Revealed by Viral Tagging 
mBio  2012;3(6):e00373-12.
Ocean viruses are ubiquitous and abundant and play important roles in global biogeochemical cycles by means of their mortality, horizontal gene transfer, and manipulation of host metabolism. However, the obstacles involved in linking viruses to their hosts in a high-throughput manner bottlenecks our ability to understand virus-host interactions in complex communities. We have developed a method called viral tagging (VT), which combines mixtures of host cells and fluorescent viruses with flow cytometry. We investigated multiple viruses which infect each of two model marine bacteria that represent the slow-growing, photoautotrophic genus Synechococcus (Cyanobacteria) and the fast-growing, heterotrophic genus Pseudoalteromonas (Gammaproteobacteria). Overall, viral tagging results for viral infection were consistent with plaque and liquid infection assays for cyanobacterial myo-, podo- and siphoviruses and some (myo- and podoviruses) but not all (four siphoviruses) heterotrophic bacterial viruses. Virus-tagged Pseudoalteromonas organisms were proportional to the added viruses under varied infection conditions (virus-bacterium ratios), while no more than 50% of the Synechococcus organisms were virus tagged even at viral abundances that exceeded (5 to 10×) that of their hosts. Further, we found that host growth phase minimally impacts the fraction of virus-tagged Synechococcus organisms while greatly affecting phage adsorption to Pseudoalteromonas. Together these findings suggest that at least two contrasting viral life strategies exist in the oceans and that they likely reflect adaptation to their host microbes. Looking forward to the point at which the virus-tagging signature is well understood (e.g., for Synechococcus), application to natural communities should begin to provide population genomic data at the proper scale for predictively modeling two of the most abundant biological entities on Earth.
Viral study suffers from an inability to link viruses to hosts en masse, and yet delineating “who infects whom” is fundamental to viral ecology and predictive modeling. This article describes viral tagging—a high-throughput method to investigate virus-host interactions by combining the fluorescent labeling of viruses for “tagging” host cells that can be analyzed and sorted using flow cytometry. Two cultivated hosts (the cyanobacterium Synechococcus and the gammaproteobacterium Pseudoalteromonas) and their viruses (podo-, myo-, and siphoviruses) were investigated to validate the method. These lab-based experiments indicate that for most virus-host pairings, VT (viral tagging) adsorption is equivalent to traditional infection by liquid and plaque assays, with the exceptions being confined to promiscuous adsorption by Pseudoalteromonas siphoviruses. These experiments also reveal variability in life strategies across these oceanic virus-host systems with respect to infection conditions and host growth status, which highlights the need for further model system characterization to break open this virus-host interaction “black box.”
PMCID: PMC3487772  PMID: 23111870
3.  Viral dark matter and virus–host interactions resolved from publicly available microbial genomes 
eLife  null;4:e08490.
The ecological importance of viruses is now widely recognized, yet our limited knowledge of viral sequence space and virus–host interactions precludes accurate prediction of their roles and impacts. In this study, we mined publicly available bacterial and archaeal genomic data sets to identify 12,498 high-confidence viral genomes linked to their microbial hosts. These data augment public data sets 10-fold, provide first viral sequences for 13 new bacterial phyla including ecologically abundant phyla, and help taxonomically identify 7–38% of ‘unknown’ sequence space in viromes. Genome- and network-based classification was largely consistent with accepted viral taxonomy and suggested that (i) 264 new viral genera were identified (doubling known genera) and (ii) cross-taxon genomic recombination is limited. Further analyses provided empirical data on extrachromosomal prophages and coinfection prevalences, as well as evaluation of in silico virus–host linkage predictions. Together these findings illustrate the value of mining viral signal from microbial genomes.
eLife digest
Viruses are infectious particles that can only multiply inside the cells of microbes and other organisms. Little is known about the genetic differences between virus particles (so-called ‘genetic diversity’), especially compared to what we know about the diversity of bacteria, archaea, and other single-celled microbes. This lack of knowledge hampers our understanding of the role viruses play in the evolution of microbial communities and their associated ecosystems.
Studying the genetics of the viruses in these communities is challenging. There is no single ‘marker’ gene that can be used to identify all viruses in environmental samples. Also, many of the fragments of viral genomes that have been identified have not yet been linked to their host microbes. Many viruses integrate their genome into the DNA of their host cell, and there are computational tools available that exploit this ability to identify viruses and link them to their host. However, other viruses can live and multiply inside cells without integrating their genome into the host's DNA.
Earlier in 2015, researchers developed a new computational tool called VirSorter that can predict virus genome sequences within the DNA extracted from microbes. VirSorter identifies viral genome sequences based on the presence of ‘hallmark’ genes that encode for components found in many virus particles, together with a reference database of genomes from many viruses.
Now, Roux et al.—including some of the researchers from the earlier work—use VirSorter to predict viral DNA from publicly available bacteria and archaea genome data. The study identifies over 12,000 viral genomes and links them to their microbial hosts. These data increase the number of viral genome sequences that are publically available by a factor of ten and identify the first viruses associated with 13 new types of bacteria, which include species that are abundant in particular environments.
It is possible for several different viruses to infect a single cell at the same time. Some viruses are known to be able to exchange DNA, and if this happens frequently in other viruses, it could have a big impact on how viruses evolve. Roux et al.'s findings suggest that although it is common for several different viruses to infect the same cell, it is relatively rare for these viruses to exchange genetic material.
Roux et al.'s findings demonstrate the value of searching publicly available microbial genome data for fragments of viral genomes. These new viral genomes will serve as a useful resource for researchers as they explore the communities of viruses and microbes in natural environments, the human body and in industrial processes.
PMCID: PMC4533152  PMID: 26200428
virus; phage; prophage; virus-host adaptation; none
4.  Major Role of Microbes in Carbon Fluxes during Austral Winter in the Southern Drake Passage 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(9):e6941.
Carbon cycling in Southern Ocean is a major issue in climate change, hence the need to understand the role of biota in the regulation of carbon fixation and cycling. Southern Ocean is a heterogeneous system, characterized by a strong seasonality, due to long dark winter. Yet, currently little is known about biogeochemical dynamics during this season, particularly in the deeper part of the ocean. We studied bacterial communities and processes in summer and winter cruises in the southern Drake Passage. Here we show that in winter, when the primary production is greatly reduced, Bacteria and Archaea become the major producers of biogenic particles, at the expense of dissolved organic carbon drawdown. Heterotrophic production and chemoautotrophic CO2 fixation rates were substantial, also in deep water, and bacterial populations were controlled by protists and viruses. A dynamic food web is also consistent with the observed temporal and spatial variations in archaeal and bacterial communities that might exploit various niches. Thus, Southern Ocean microbial loop may substantially maintain a wintertime food web and system respiration at the expense of summer produced DOC as well as regenerate nutrients and iron. Our findings have important implications for Southern Ocean ecosystem functioning and carbon cycle and its manipulation by iron enrichment to achieve net sequestration of atmospheric CO2.
PMCID: PMC2736376  PMID: 19759822
5.  Infection Paradox: High Abundance but Low Impact of Freshwater Benthic Viruses 
The discovery of an abundant and diverse virus community in oceans and lakes has profoundly reshaped ideas about global carbon and nutrient fluxes, food web dynamics, and maintenance of microbial biodiversity. These roles are exerted through massive viral impact on the population dynamics of heterotrophic bacterioplankton and primary producers. We took advantage of a shallow wetland system with contrasting microhabitats in close proximity to demonstrate that in marked contrast to pelagic systems, viral infection, determined directly by transmission electron microscopy, and consequently mortality of prokaryotes were surprisingly low in benthic habitats in all seasons. This was true even though free viruses were abundant throughout the year and bacterial infection and mortality rates were high in surrounding water. The habitats in which we found this pattern include sediment, decomposing plant litter, and biofilms on aquatic vegetation. Overall, we detected viruses in only 4 of a total of ∼15,000 bacterial cells inspected in these three habitats; for comparison, nearly 300 of ∼5,000 cells suspended in the water column were infected. The strikingly low incidence of impact of phages in the benthos may have important implications, since a major portion of microbial biodiversity and global carbon and nutrient turnover are associated with surfaces. Therefore, if failure to infect benthic bacteria is a widespread phenomenon, then the global role of viruses in controlling microbial diversity, food web dynamics, and biogeochemical cycles would be greatly diminished compared to predictions based on data from planktonic environments.
PMCID: PMC1489317  PMID: 16820485
6.  Unprecedented evidence for high viral abundance and lytic activity in coral reef waters of the South Pacific Ocean 
Despite nutrient-depleted conditions, coral reef waters harbor abundant and diverse microbes; as major agents of microbial mortality, viruses are likely to influence microbial processes in these ecosystems. However, little is known about marine viruses in these rapidly changing ecosystems. Here we examined spatial and short-term temporal variability in marine viral abundance (VA) and viral lytic activity across various reef habitats surrounding Moorea Island (French Polynesia) in the South Pacific. Water samples were collected along four regional cross-reef transects and during a time-series in Opunohu Bay. Results revealed high VA (range: 5.6 × 106–3.6 × 107 viruses ml-1) and lytic viral production (range: 1.5 × 109–9.2 × 1010 viruses l-1 d-1). Flow cytometry revealed that viral assemblages were composed of three subsets that each displayed distinct spatiotemporal relationships with nutrient concentrations and autotrophic and heterotrophic microbial abundances. The results highlight dynamic shifts in viral community structure and imply that each of these three subsets is ecologically important and likely to infect distinct microbial hosts in reef waters. Based on viral-reduction approach, we estimate that lytic viruses were responsible for the removal of ca. 24–367% of bacterial standing stock d-1 and the release of ca. 1.0–62 μg of organic carbon l-1 d-1 in reef waters. Overall, this work demonstrates the highly dynamic distribution of viruses and their critical roles in controlling microbial mortality and nutrient cycling in coral reef water ecosystems.
PMCID: PMC4172022  PMID: 25295032
marine viruses; viral lysis; carbon cycling; coral reefs; South Pacific; microbial mortality; viral abundance; spatial and temporal variability
7.  Marine bacterial, archaeal and protistan association networks reveal ecological linkages 
The ISME Journal  2011;5(9):1414-1425.
Microbes have central roles in ocean food webs and global biogeochemical processes, yet specific ecological relationships among these taxa are largely unknown. This is in part due to the dilute, microscopic nature of the planktonic microbial community, which prevents direct observation of their interactions. Here, we use a holistic (that is, microbial system-wide) approach to investigate time-dependent variations among taxa from all three domains of life in a marine microbial community. We investigated the community composition of bacteria, archaea and protists through cultivation-independent methods, along with total bacterial and viral abundance, and physico-chemical observations. Samples and observations were collected monthly over 3 years at a well-described ocean time-series site of southern California. To find associations among these organisms, we calculated time-dependent rank correlations (that is, local similarity correlations) among relative abundances of bacteria, archaea, protists, total abundance of bacteria and viruses and physico-chemical parameters. We used a network generated from these statistical correlations to visualize and identify time-dependent associations among ecologically important taxa, for example, the SAR11 cluster, stramenopiles, alveolates, cyanobacteria and ammonia-oxidizing archaea. Negative correlations, perhaps suggesting competition or predation, were also common. The analysis revealed a progression of microbial communities through time, and also a group of unknown eukaryotes that were highly correlated with dinoflagellates, indicating possible symbioses or parasitism. Possible ‘keystone' species were evident. The network has statistical features similar to previously described ecological networks, and in network parlance has non-random, small world properties (that is, highly interconnected nodes). This approach provides new insights into the natural history of microbes.
PMCID: PMC3160682  PMID: 21430787
co-occurrence patterns; stramenopiles; dinoflagellates; SAR11; cyanobacteria; time series
8.  Patterns in Wetland Microbial Community Composition and Functional Gene Repertoire Associated with Methane Emissions 
mBio  2015;6(3):e00066-15.
Wetland restoration on peat islands previously drained for agriculture has potential to reverse land subsidence and sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide as peat accretes. However, the emission of methane could potentially offset the greenhouse gas benefits of captured carbon. As microbial communities play a key role in governing wetland greenhouse gas fluxes, we are interested in how microbial community composition and functions are associated with wetland hydrology, biogeochemistry, and methane emission, which is critical to modeling the microbial component in wetland methane fluxes and to managing restoration projects for maximal carbon sequestration. Here, we couple sequence-based methods with biogeochemical and greenhouse gas measurements to interrogate microbial communities from a pilot-scale restored wetland in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta of California, revealing considerable spatial heterogeneity even within this relatively small site. A number of microbial populations and functions showed strong correlations with electron acceptor availability and methane production; some also showed a preference for association with plant roots. Marker gene phylogenies revealed a diversity of major methane-producing and -consuming populations and suggested novel diversity within methanotrophs. Methanogenic archaea were observed in all samples, as were nitrate-, sulfate-, and metal-reducing bacteria, indicating that no single terminal electron acceptor was preferred despite differences in energetic favorability and suggesting spatial microheterogeneity and microniches. Notably, methanogens were negatively correlated with nitrate-, sulfate-, and metal-reducing bacteria and were most abundant at sampling sites with high peat accretion and low electron acceptor availability, where methane production was highest.
Wetlands are the largest nonanthropogenic source of atmospheric methane but also a key global carbon reservoir. Characterizing belowground microbial communities that mediate carbon cycling in wetlands is critical to accurately predicting their responses to changes in land management and climate. Here, we studied a restored wetland and revealed substantial spatial heterogeneity in biogeochemistry, methane production, and microbial communities, largely associated with the wetland hydraulic design. We observed patterns in microbial community composition and functions correlated with biogeochemistry and methane production, including diverse microorganisms involved in methane production and consumption. We found that methanogenesis gene abundance is inversely correlated with genes from pathways exploiting other electron acceptors, yet the ubiquitous presence of genes from all these pathways suggests that diverse electron acceptors contribute to the energetic balance of the ecosystem. These investigations represent an important step toward effective management of wetlands to reduce methane flux to the atmosphere and enhance belowground carbon storage.
PMCID: PMC4442139  PMID: 25991679
9.  Metabolic characteristics of dominant microbes and key rare species from an acidic hot spring in Taiwan revealed by metagenomics 
BMC Genomics  2015;16:1029.
Microbial diversity and community structures in acidic hot springs have been characterized by 16S rRNA gene-based diversity surveys. However, our understanding regarding the interactions among microbes, or between microbes and environmental factors, remains limited.
In the present study, a metagenomic approach, followed by bioinformatics analyses, were used to predict interactions within the microbial ecosystem in Shi-Huang-Ping (SHP), an acidic hot spring in northern Taiwan. Characterizing environmental parameters and potential metabolic pathways highlighted the importance of carbon assimilatory pathways. Four distinct carbon assimilatory pathways were identified in five dominant genera of bacteria. Of those dominant carbon fixers, Hydrogenobaculum bacteria outcompeted other carbon assimilators and dominated the SHP, presumably due to their ability to metabolize hydrogen and to withstand an anaerobic environment with fluctuating temperatures. Furthermore, most dominant microbes were capable of metabolizing inorganic sulfur-related compounds (abundant in SHP). However, Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans was the only species among key rare microbes with the capability to fix nitrogen, suggesting a key role in nitrogen cycling. In addition to potential metabolic interactions, based on the 16S rRNAs gene sequence of Nanoarchaeum-related and its potential host Ignicoccus-related archaea, as well as sequences of viruses and CRISPR arrays, we inferred that there were complex microbe-microbe interactions.
Our study provided evidence that there were numerous microbe-microbe and microbe-environment interactions within the microbial community in an acidic hot spring. We proposed that Hydrogenobaculum bacteria were the dominant microbial genus, as they were able to metabolize hydrogen, assimilate carbon and live in an anaerobic environment with fluctuating temperatures.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12864-015-2230-9) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4668684  PMID: 26630941
10.  Microbial diversity and community structure across environmental gradients in Bransfield Strait, Western Antarctic Peninsula 
The Southern Ocean is currently subject to intense investigations, mainly related to its importance for global biogeochemical cycles and its alarming rate of warming in response to climate change. Microbes play an essential role in the functioning of this ecosystem and are the main drivers of the biogeochemical cycling of elements. Yet, the diversity and abundance of microorganisms in this system remain poorly studied, in particular with regards to changes along environmental gradients. Here, we used amplicon sequencing of 16S rRNA gene tags using primers covering both Bacteria and Archaea to assess the composition and diversity of the microbial communities from four sampling depths (surface, the maximum and minimum of the oxygen concentration, and near the seafloor) at 10 oceanographic stations located in Bransfield Strait [northwest of the Antarctic Peninsula (AP)] and near the sea ice edge (north of the AP). Samples collected near the seafloor and at the oxygen minimum exhibited a higher diversity than those from the surface and oxygen maximum for both bacterial and archaeal communities. The main taxonomic groups identified below 100 m were Thaumarchaeota, Euryarchaeota and Proteobacteria (Gamma-, Delta-, Beta-, and Alphaproteobacteria), whereas in the mixed layer above 100 m Bacteroidetes and Proteobacteria (mainly Alpha- and Gammaproteobacteria) were found to be dominant. A combination of environmental factors seems to influence the microbial community composition. Our results help to understand how the dynamic seascape of the Southern Ocean shapes the microbial community composition and set a baseline for upcoming studies to evaluate the response of this ecosystem to future changes.
PMCID: PMC4267279  PMID: 25566198
Antarctica; pyrosequencing; microbial community structure; environmental factors; microbial oceanography; climate change
11.  Functional Biogeography of Ocean Microbes Revealed through Non-Negative Matrix Factorization 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e43866.
The direct “metagenomic” sequencing of genomic material from complex assemblages of bacteria, archaea, viruses and microeukaryotes has yielded new insights into the structure of microbial communities. For example, analysis of metagenomic data has revealed the existence of previously unknown microbial taxa whose spatial distributions are limited by environmental conditions, ecological competition, and dispersal mechanisms. However, differences in genotypes that might lead biologists to designate two microbes as taxonomically distinct need not necessarily imply differences in ecological function. Hence, there is a growing need for large-scale analysis of the distribution of microbial function across habitats. Here, we present a framework for investigating the biogeography of microbial function by analyzing the distribution of protein families inferred from environmental sequence data across a global collection of sites. We map over 6,000,000 protein sequences from unassembled reads from the Global Ocean Survey dataset to protein families, generating a protein family relative abundance matrix that describes the distribution of each protein family across sites. We then use non-negative matrix factorization (NMF) to approximate these protein family profiles as linear combinations of a small number of ecological components. Each component has a characteristic functional profile and site profile. Our approach identifies common functional signatures within several of the components. We use our method as a filter to estimate functional distance between sites, and find that an NMF-filtered measure of functional distance is more strongly correlated with environmental distance than a comparable PCA-filtered measure. We also find that functional distance is more strongly correlated with environmental distance than with geographic distance, in agreement with prior studies. We identify similar protein functions in several components and suggest that functional co-occurrence across metagenomic samples could lead to future methods for de-novo functional prediction. We conclude by discussing how NMF, and other dimension reduction methods, can help enable a macroscopic functional description of marine ecosystems.
PMCID: PMC3445553  PMID: 23049741
12.  Relationship between Abundance and Specific Activity of Bacterioplankton in Open Ocean Surface Waters 
Marine microbial communities are complex and dynamic, and their ecology impacts biogeochemical cycles in pelagic ecosystems. Yet, little is known about the relative activities of different microbial populations within genetically diverse communities. We used rRNA as a proxy for activity to quantify the relative specific activities (rRNA/ribosomal DNA [rDNA or rRNA genes]) of the eubacterial populations and to identify locations or clades for which there are uncouplings between specific activity and abundance. After analyzing 1.6 million sequences from 16S rDNA and rRNA (cDNA) libraries from two euphotic depths from a representative site in the Pacific Ocean, we show that although there is an overall positive relationship between the abundances (rDNAs) and activities (rRNAs) among populations of the bacterial community, for some populations these measures are uncoupled. Different ecological strategies are exemplified by the two numerically dominant clades at this site: the cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus is abundant but disproportionately more active, while the heterotrophic SAR11 is abundant but less active. Other rare populations, such as Alteromonas, have high specific activities in spite of their low abundances, suggesting intense population regulation. More detailed analyses using a complementary quantitative PCR (qPCR)-based approach of measuring relative specific activity for Prochlorococcus populations in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans also show that specific activity, but not abundance, reflects the key drivers of light and nutrients in this system; our results also suggest substantial top-down regulation (e.g., grazing, viruses, or organismal interactions) or transport (e.g., mixing, immigration, or emigration) of these populations. Thus, we show here that abundance and specific activity can be uncoupled in open ocean systems and that describing both is critical to characterizing microbial communities and predicting marine ecosystem functioning and responses to change.
PMCID: PMC3536108  PMID: 23087033
13.  Metagenomic Profiling of a Microbial Assemblage Associated with the California Mussel: A Node in Networks of Carbon and Nitrogen Cycling 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(5):e10518.
Mussels are conspicuous and often abundant members of rocky shores and may constitute an important site for the nitrogen cycle due to their feeding and excretion activities. We used shotgun metagenomics of the microbial community associated with the surface of mussels (Mytilus californianus) on Tatoosh Island in Washington state to test whether there is a nitrogen-based microbial assemblage associated with mussels. Analyses of both tidepool mussels and those on emergent benches revealed a diverse community of Bacteria and Archaea with approximately 31 million bp from 6 mussels in each habitat. Using MG-RAST, between 22.5–25.6% were identifiable using the SEED non-redundant database for proteins. Of those fragments that were identifiable through MG-RAST, the composition was dominated by Cyanobacteria and Alpha- and Gamma-proteobacteria. Microbial composition was highly similar between the tidepool and emergent bench mussels, suggesting similar functions across these different microhabitats. One percent of the proteins identified in each sample were related to nitrogen cycling. When normalized to protein discovery rate, the high diversity and abundance of enzymes related to the nitrogen cycle in mussel-associated microbes is as great or greater than that described for other marine metagenomes. In some instances, the nitrogen-utilizing profile of this assemblage was more concordant with soil metagenomes in the Midwestern U.S. than for open ocean system. Carbon fixation and Calvin cycle enzymes further represented 0.65 and 1.26% of all proteins and their abundance was comparable to a number of open ocean marine metagenomes. In sum, the diversity and abundance of nitrogen and carbon cycle related enzymes in the microbes occupying the shells of Mytilus californianus suggest these mussels provide a node for microbial populations and thus biogeochemical processes.
PMCID: PMC2865538  PMID: 20463896
14.  The earliest stages of ecosystem succession in high-elevation (5000 metres above sea level), recently deglaciated soils 
Global climate change has accelerated the pace of glacial retreat in high-latitude and high-elevation environments, exposing lands that remain devoid of vegetation for many years. The exposure of ‘new’ soil is particularly apparent at high elevations (5000 metres above sea level) in the Peruvian Andes, where extreme environmental conditions hinder plant colonization. Nonetheless, these seemingly barren soils contain a diverse microbial community; yet the biogeochemical role of micro-organisms at these extreme elevations remains unknown. Using biogeochemical and molecular techniques, we investigated the biological community structure and ecosystem functioning of the pre-plant stages of primary succession in soils along a high-Andean chronosequence. We found that recently glaciated soils were colonized by a diverse community of cyanobacteria during the first 4–5 years following glacial retreat. This significant increase in cyanobacterial diversity corresponded with equally dramatic increases in soil stability, heterotrophic microbial biomass, soil enzyme activity and the presence and abundance of photosynthetic and photoprotective pigments. Furthermore, we found that soil nitrogen-fixation rates increased almost two orders of magnitude during the first 4–5 years of succession, many years before the establishment of mosses, lichens or vascular plants. Carbon analyses (pyrolysis-gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy) of soil organic matter suggested that soil carbon along the chronosequence was of microbial origin. This indicates that inputs of nutrients and organic matter during early ecosystem development at these sites are dominated by microbial carbon and nitrogen fixation. Overall, our results indicate that photosynthetic and nitrogen-fixing bacteria play important roles in acquiring nutrients and facilitating ecological succession in soils near some of the highest elevation receding glaciers on the Earth.
PMCID: PMC2605835  PMID: 18755677
primary succession; nitrogen fixation; cyanobacteria; Peruvian Andes
15.  Elemental Economy: microbial strategies for optimizing growth in the face of nutrient limitation 
Microorganisms play a dominant role in the biogeochemical cycling of nutrients. They are rightly praised for their facility at fixing both carbon and nitrogen into organic matter, and microbial driven processes have tangibly altered the chemical composition of the biosphere and its surrounding atmosphere. Despite their prodigious capacity for molecular transformations, microorganisms are powerless in the face of the immutability of the elements. Limitations for specific elements, either fleeting or persisting over eons, have left an indelible trace on microbial genomes, physiology, and their very atomic composition. We here review the impact of elemental limitation on microbes, with a focus on selected genetic model systems and representative microbes from the ocean ecosystem. Evolutionary adaptations that enhance growth in the face of persistent or recurrent elemental limitations are evident from genome and proteome analyses. These range from the extreme (such as dispensing with a requirement for a hard to obtain element) to the extremely subtle (changes in protein amino acid sequences that slightly, but significantly, reduce cellular carbon, nitrogen, or sulfur demand). One near universal adaptation is the development of sophisticated acclimation programs by which cells adjust their chemical composition in response to a changing environment. When specific elements become limiting, acclimation typically begins with an increased commitment to acquisition and a concomitant mobilization of stored resources. If elemental limitation persists, the cell implements austerity measures including elemental-sparing and elemental-recycling. Insights into these fundamental cellular properties have emerged from studies at many different levels; including ecology, biological oceanography, biogeochemistry, molecular genetics, genomics, and microbial physiology. Here, we present a synthesis of these diverse studies and attempt to discern some overarching themes.
PMCID: PMC4100946  PMID: 22633059
metal homeostasis; sparing; phosphorus; sulfur; iron; zinc; copper; cyanobacteria; diatom; Chlamydomonas; Bacillus
16.  The Characterization of RNA Viruses in Tropical Seawater Using Targeted PCR and Metagenomics 
mBio  2014;5(3):e01210-14.
Viruses have a profound influence on the ecology and evolution of plankton, but our understanding of the composition of the aquatic viral communities is still rudimentary. This is especially true of those viruses having RNA genomes. The limited data that have been published suggest that the RNA virioplankton is dominated by viruses with positive-sense, single-stranded (+ss) genomes that have features in common with those of eukaryote-infecting viruses in the order Picornavirales (picornavirads). In this study, we investigated the diversity of the RNA virus assemblages in tropical coastal seawater samples using targeted PCR and metagenomics. Amplification of RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) genes from fractions of a buoyant density gradient suggested that the distribution of two major subclades of the marine picornavirads was largely congruent with the distribution of total virus-like RNA, a finding consistent with their proposed dominance. Analyses of the RdRp sequences in the library revealed the presence of many diverse phylotypes, most of which were related only distantly to those of cultivated viruses. Phylogenetic analysis suggests that there were hundreds of unique picornavirad-like phylotypes in one 35-liter sample that differed from one another by at least as much as the differences among currently recognized species. Assembly of the sequences in the metagenome resulted in the reconstruction of six essentially complete viral genomes that had features similar to viruses in the families Bacillarna-, Dicistro-, and Marnaviridae. Comparison of the tropical seawater metagenomes with those from other habitats suggests that +ssRNA viruses are generally the most common types of RNA viruses in aquatic environments, but biases in library preparation remain a possible explanation for this observation.
Marine plankton account for much of the photosynthesis and respiration on our planet, and they influence the cycling of carbon and the distribution of nutrients on a global scale. Despite the fundamental importance of viruses to plankton ecology and evolution, most of the viruses in the sea, and the identities of their hosts, are unknown. This report is one of very few that delves into the genetic diversity within RNA-containing viruses in the ocean. The data expand the known range of viral diversity and shed new light on the physical properties and genetic composition of RNA viruses in the ocean.
PMCID: PMC4068258  PMID: 24939887
17.  Interactive effects of global climate change and pollution on marine microbes: the way ahead 
Ecology and Evolution  2013;3(6):1808-1818.
Global climate change has the potential to seriously and adversely affect marine ecosystem functioning. Numerous experimental and modeling studies have demonstrated how predicted ocean acidification and increased ultraviolet radiation (UVR) can affect marine microbes. However, researchers have largely ignored interactions between ocean acidification, increased UVR and anthropogenic pollutants in marine environments. Such interactions can alter chemical speciation and the bioavailability of several organic and inorganic pollutants with potentially deleterious effects, such as modifying microbial-mediated detoxification processes. Microbes mediate major biogeochemical cycles, providing fundamental ecosystems services such as environmental detoxification and recovery. It is, therefore, important that we understand how predicted changes to oceanic pH, UVR, and temperature will affect microbial pollutant detoxification processes in marine ecosystems. The intrinsic characteristics of microbes, such as their short generation time, small size, and functional role in biogeochemical cycles combined with recent advances in molecular techniques (e.g., metagenomics and metatranscriptomics) make microbes excellent models to evaluate the consequences of various climate change scenarios on detoxification processes in marine ecosystems. In this review, we highlight the importance of microbial microcosm experiments, coupled with high-resolution molecular biology techniques, to provide a critical experimental framework to start understanding how climate change, anthropogenic pollution, and microbiological interactions may affect marine ecosystems in the future.
PMCID: PMC3686211  PMID: 23789087
Climate change; interactive effects; pollution; microbial communities; molecular biology
18.  Modeling Selective Pressures on Phytoplankton in the Global Ocean 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(3):e9569.
Our view of marine microbes is transforming, as culture-independent methods facilitate rapid characterization of microbial diversity. It is difficult to assimilate this information into our understanding of marine microbe ecology and evolution, because their distributions, traits, and genomes are shaped by forces that are complex and dynamic. Here we incorporate diverse forces—physical, biogeochemical, ecological, and mutational—into a global ocean model to study selective pressures on a simple trait in a widely distributed lineage of picophytoplankton: the nitrogen use abilities of Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus cyanobacteria. Some Prochlorococcus ecotypes have lost the ability to use nitrate, whereas their close relatives, marine Synechococcus, typically retain it. We impose mutations for the loss of nitrogen use abilities in modeled picophytoplankton, and ask: in which parts of the ocean are mutants most disadvantaged by losing the ability to use nitrate, and in which parts are they least disadvantaged? Our model predicts that this selective disadvantage is smallest for picophytoplankton that live in tropical regions where Prochlorococcus are abundant in the real ocean. Conversely, the selective disadvantage of losing the ability to use nitrate is larger for modeled picophytoplankton that live at higher latitudes, where Synechococcus are abundant. In regions where we expect Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus populations to cycle seasonally in the real ocean, we find that model ecotypes with seasonal population dynamics similar to Prochlorococcus are less disadvantaged by losing the ability to use nitrate than model ecotypes with seasonal population dynamics similar to Synechococcus. The model predictions for the selective advantage associated with nitrate use are broadly consistent with the distribution of this ability among marine picocyanobacteria, and at finer scales, can provide insights into interactions between temporally varying ocean processes and selective pressures that may be difficult or impossible to study by other means. More generally, and perhaps more importantly, this study introduces an approach for testing hypotheses about the processes that underlie genetic variation among marine microbes, embedded in the dynamic physical, chemical, and biological forces that generate and shape this diversity.
PMCID: PMC2835739  PMID: 20224766
19.  Combining genomic sequencing methods to explore viral diversity and reveal potential virus-host interactions 
Viral diversity and virus-host interactions in oxygen-starved regions of the ocean, also known as oxygen minimum zones (OMZs), remain relatively unexplored. Microbial community metabolism in OMZs alters nutrient and energy flow through marine food webs, resulting in biological nitrogen loss and greenhouse gas production. Thus, viruses infecting OMZ microbes have the potential to modulate community metabolism with resulting feedback on ecosystem function. Here, we describe viral communities inhabiting oxic surface (10 m) and oxygen-starved basin (200 m) waters of Saanich Inlet, a seasonally anoxic fjord on the coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia using viral metagenomics and complete viral fosmid sequencing on samples collected between April 2007 and April 2010. Of 6459 open reading frames (ORFs) predicted across all 34 viral fosmids, 77.6% (n = 5010) had no homology to reference viral genomes. These fosmids recruited a higher proportion of viral metagenomic sequences from Saanich Inlet than from nearby northeastern subarctic Pacific Ocean (Line P) waters, indicating differences in the viral communities between coastal and open ocean locations. While functional annotations of fosmid ORFs were limited, recruitment to NCBI's non-redundant “nr” database and publicly available single-cell genomes identified putative viruses infecting marine thaumarchaeal and SUP05 proteobacteria to provide potential host linkages with relevance to coupled biogeochemical cycling processes in OMZ waters. Taken together, these results highlight the power of coupled analyses of multiple sequence data types, such as viral metagenomic and fosmid sequence data with prokaryotic single cell genomes, to chart viral diversity, elucidate genomic and ecological contexts for previously unclassifiable viral sequences, and identify novel host interactions in natural and engineered ecosystems.
PMCID: PMC4392320  PMID: 25914678
microbial ecology; marine virus; metagenomics; fosmids; virome; reference genome; single cell genomics
20.  The marine nitrogen cycle: recent discoveries, uncertainties and the potential relevance of climate change 
The ocean's nitrogen cycle is driven by complex microbial transformations, including nitrogen fixation, assimilation, nitrification, anammox and denitrification. Dinitrogen is the most abundant form of nitrogen in sea water but only accessible by nitrogen-fixing microbes. Denitrification and nitrification are both regulated by oxygen concentrations and potentially produce nitrous oxide (N2O), a climate-relevant atmospheric trace gas. The world's oceans, including the coastal areas and upwelling areas, contribute about 30 per cent to the atmospheric N2O budget and are, therefore, a major source of this gas to the atmosphere. Human activities now add more nitrogen to the environment than is naturally fixed. More than half of the nitrogen reaches the coastal ocean via river input and atmospheric deposition, of which the latter affects even remote oceanic regions. A nitrogen budget for the coastal and open ocean, where inputs and outputs match rather well, is presented. Furthermore, predicted climate change will impact the expansion of the oceans' oxygen minimum zones, the productivity of surface waters and presumably other microbial processes, with unpredictable consequences for the cycling of nitrogen. Nitrogen cycling is closely intertwined with that of carbon, phosphorous and other biologically important elements via biological stoichiometric requirements. This linkage implies that human alterations of nitrogen cycling are likely to have major consequences for other biogeochemical processes and ecosystem functions and services.
PMCID: PMC3682741  PMID: 23713119
ocean; nitrogen; budget
21.  Expanding the Marine Virosphere Using Metagenomics 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(12):e1003987.
Viruses infecting prokaryotic cells (phages) are the most abundant entities of the biosphere and contain a largely uncharted wealth of genomic diversity. They play a critical role in the biology of their hosts and in ecosystem functioning at large. The classical approaches studying phages require isolation from a pure culture of the host. Direct sequencing approaches have been hampered by the small amounts of phage DNA present in most natural habitats and the difficulty in applying meta-omic approaches, such as annotation of small reads and assembly. Serendipitously, it has been discovered that cellular metagenomes of highly productive ocean waters (the deep chlorophyll maximum) contain significant amounts of viral DNA derived from cells undergoing the lytic cycle. We have taken advantage of this phenomenon to retrieve metagenomic fosmids containing viral DNA from a Mediterranean deep chlorophyll maximum sample. This method allowed description of complete genomes of 208 new marine phages. The diversity of these genomes was remarkable, contributing 21 genomic groups of tailed bacteriophages of which 10 are completely new. Sequence based methods have allowed host assignment to many of them. These predicted hosts represent a wide variety of important marine prokaryotic microbes like members of SAR11 and SAR116 clades, Cyanobacteria and also the newly described low GC Actinobacteria. A metavirome constructed from the same habitat showed that many of the new phage genomes were abundantly represented. Furthermore, other available metaviromes also indicated that some of the new phages are globally distributed in low to medium latitude ocean waters. The availability of many genomes from the same sample allows a direct approach to viral population genomics confirming the remarkable mosaicism of phage genomes.
Author Summary
Prokaryotic species contain extremely large gene pools (pan-genome) the study of which has been constrained by the difficulties in getting enough cultivated representatives of most of them. The situation of their viruses, also known as phages, that provide part of this genomic diversity and preserve it, is even worse. Here we have found a way to bypass the limitation imposed by pure culture to retrieve phage genomes. We obtained large insert clones (fosmids) from natural communities that are undergoing active viral attack. This has allowed us to triple the number of genomes of marine phages and could be similarly applied to other habitats, shedding light into the biology of the most numerous and least known biological entities on the planet. They exhibit a remarkable degree of variation at one single geographic site but some seem also to be prevalent worldwide. Their frequent mosaicism indicates a high level of promiscuity that goes beyond the already remarkable hybrid nature of prokaryotic genomes.
PMCID: PMC3861242  PMID: 24348267
22.  Trophic interactions of fish communities at midwater depths enhance long-term carbon storage and benthic production on continental slopes 
Biological transfer of nutrients and materials between linked ecosystems influences global carbon budgets and ecosystem structure and function. Identifying the organisms or functional groups that are responsible for nutrient transfer, and quantifying their influence on ecosystem structure and carbon capture is an essential step for informed management of ecosystems in physically distant, but ecologically linked areas. Here, we combine natural abundance stable isotope tracers and survey data to show that mid-water and bentho-pelagic-feeding demersal fishes play an important role in the ocean carbon cycle, bypassing the detrital particle flux and transferring carbon to deep long-term storage. Global peaks in biomass and diversity of fishes at mid-slope depths are explained by competitive release of the demersal fish predators of mid-water organisms, which in turn support benthic fish production. Over 50% of the biomass of the demersal fish community at depths between 500 and 1800 m is supported by biological rather than detrital nutrient flux processes, and we estimate that bentho-pelagic fishes from the UK–Irish continental slope capture and store a volume of carbon equivalent to over 1 million tonnes of CO2 every year.
PMCID: PMC4071550  PMID: 24898373
benthic–pelagic coupling; food web; North Atlantic; carbon; nitrogen; mesopelagic
23.  High Abundances of Potentially Active Ammonia-Oxidizing Bacteria and Archaea in Oligotrophic, High-Altitude Lakes of the Sierra Nevada, California, USA 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(11):e111560.
Nitrification plays a central role in the nitrogen cycle by determining the oxidation state of nitrogen and its subsequent bioavailability and cycling. However, relatively little is known about the underlying ecology of the microbial communities that carry out nitrification in freshwater ecosystems—and particularly within high-altitude oligotrophic lakes, where nitrogen is frequently a limiting nutrient. We quantified ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) and bacteria (AOB) in 9 high-altitude lakes (2289–3160 m) in the Sierra Nevada, California, USA, in relation to spatial and biogeochemical data. Based on their ammonia monooxygenase (amoA) genes, AOB and AOA were frequently detected. AOB were present in 88% of samples and were more abundant than AOA in all samples. Both groups showed >100 fold variation in abundance between different lakes, and were also variable through time within individual lakes. Nutrient concentrations (ammonium, nitrite, nitrate, and phosphate) were generally low but also varied across and within lakes, suggestive of active internal nutrient cycling; AOB abundance was significantly correlated with phosphate (r2 = 0.32, p<0.1), whereas AOA abundance was inversely correlated with lake elevation (r2 = 0.43, p<0.05). We also measured low rates of ammonia oxidation—indicating that AOB, AOA, or both, may be biogeochemically active in these oligotrophic ecosystems. Our data indicate that dynamic populations of AOB and AOA are found in oligotrophic, high-altitude, freshwater lakes.
PMCID: PMC4234299  PMID: 25402442
24.  Picoplankton Bloom in Global South? A High Fraction of Aerobic Anoxygenic Phototrophic Bacteria in Metagenomes from a Coastal Bay (Arraial do Cabo—Brazil) 
Marine habitats harbor a great diversity of microorganism from the three domains of life, only a small fraction of which can be cultivated. Metagenomic approaches are increasingly popular for addressing microbial diversity without culture, serving as sensitive and relatively unbiased methods for identifying and cataloging the diversity of nucleic acid sequences derived from organisms in environmental samples. Aerobic anoxygenic phototrophic bacteria (AAP) play important roles in carbon and energy cycling in aquatic systems. In oceans, those bacteria are widely distributed; however, their abundance and importance are still poorly understood. The aim of this study was to estimate abundance and diversity of AAPs in metagenomes from an upwelling affected coastal bay in Arraial do Cabo, Brazil, using in silico screening for the anoxygenic photosynthesis core genes. Metagenomes from the Global Ocean Sample Expedition (GOS) were screened for comparative purposes. AAPs were highly abundant in the free-living bacterial fraction from Arraial do Cabo: 23.88% of total bacterial cells, compared with 15% in the GOS dataset. Of the ten most AAP abundant samples from GOS, eight were collected close to the Equator where solar irradiation is high year-round. We were able to assign most retrieved sequences to phylo-groups, with a particularly high abundance of Roseobacter in Arraial do Cabo samples. The high abundance of AAP in this tropical bay may be related to the upwelling phenomenon and subsequent picoplankton bloom. These results suggest a link between upwelling and light abundance and demonstrate AAP even in oligotrophic tropical and subtropical environments. Longitudinal studies in the Arraial do Cabo region are warranted to understand the dynamics of AAP at different locations and seasons, and the ecological role of these unique bacteria for biogeochemical and energy cycling in the ocean.
PMCID: PMC4770915  PMID: 26871866
25.  Impact of CO2 leakage from sub-seabed carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) reservoirs on benthic virus–prokaryote interactions and functions 
Atmospheric CO2 emissions are a global concern due to their predicted impact on biodiversity, ecosystems functioning, and human life. Among the proposed mitigation strategies, CO2 capture and storage, primarily the injection of CO2 into marine deep geological formations has been suggested as a technically practical option for reducing emissions. However, concerns have been raised that possible leakage from such storage sites, and the associated elevated levels of pCO2 could locally impact the biodiversity and biogeochemical processes in the sediments above these reservoirs. Whilst a number of impact assessment studies have been conducted, no information is available on the specific responses of viruses and virus–host interactions. In the present study, we tested the impact of a simulated CO2 leakage on the benthic microbial assemblages, with specific focus on microbial activity and virus-induced prokaryotic mortality (VIPM). We found that exposure to levels of CO2 in the overlying seawater from 1,000 to 20,000 ppm for a period up to 140 days, resulted in a marked decrease in heterotrophic carbon production and organic matter degradation rates in the sediments, associated with lower rates of VIPM, and a progressive accumulation of sedimentary organic matter with increasing CO2 concentrations. These results suggest that the increase in seawater pCO2 levels that may result from CO2 leakage, can severely reduce the rates of microbial-mediated recycling of the sedimentary organic matter and viral infections, with major consequences on C cycling and nutrient regeneration, and hence on the functioning of benthic ecosystems.
PMCID: PMC4561362  PMID: 26441872
viral infection; benthic prokaryotes; biogeochemical cycles; climate change; heterotrophic carbon production; enzymatic activity

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