Predatory Organisms at Depth
Viruses within the ocean floor comprise the greatest fraction of the deep biosphere
The scientists found that with decreasing nutrient levels the ratio between viruses and cells shifts more toward viruses. "For several years it has been know that the biomass of all microbes within the sea floor equals that of all life in the oceans above" reports Jens Kallmeyer from the GFZ. "Viruses, however, have been neglected previously".
In these extreme environments viruses take over the role of predatory organisms: They control size and composition of the microbial community. The surprisingly high number of viruses can be explained by the fact that the small but active microbial community permanently produces new viruses that remain in the sediment for longer times because the few microbes produce fewer enzymes that can destroy viruses.
Previous measurements in seawater and surficial sediments showed that viruses are about ten times more abundant than microbes, but because of their much smaller biomass they did not play a major role in estimates of the total living biomass. Moreover, it was assumed that predators such as unicellular organisms, but also worms and snails control the size of the microbial population. The new results show that these simple assumptions are no longer valid.
Publication of press-releases or other out-sourced content does not signify endorsement or affiliation of any kind.