The recent study published in the journal Science on Thursday focuses on viruses that include RNA, a molecular cousin of DNA. In human illness, RNA viruses abound; coronaviruses and influenza viruses, for example, are both RNA-based. Scientists are just now learning about the variety of RNA viruses that may be found in the water.
“We are certainly sure that most RNA viruses in the ocean are infecting microbial eukaryotes, such as fungi and protists, and to a lesser extent, invertebrates,” said co-first author Guillermo Dominguez-Huerta, who was a postdoctoral scholar in viral ecology at Ohio State University (OSU) at the time of the study.
Fungi and protists, which include algae and amoebas, are viral hosts that take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and so control how much carbon is stored in the ocean.
In an email to Live Science, Wilhelm said, “Given the quantity of RNA virus particles, knowing they can accomplish this continues to develop the tale of how significant viruses are in the world with respect to how energy and carbon move.”
Dominguez-Huerta and his colleagues discovered more than 5,500 previously undiscovered RNA viruses in the world’s waters earlier this year.
The scientists evaluated 35,000 water samples gathered from 121 locations in the five seas by the Tara Oceans Consortium. Planktons are microscopic creatures that move in the current and can serve as hosts for RNA viruses that were abundant in these water samples.
“That’s the sole… coding sequence that’s consistent across all RNA viruses,” said Dominguez-Huerta, who now works as a scientific consultant for Virosphaera; nonetheless, the RdRp gene isn’t found in cells or other viruses.
The viral populations might be divided into four broad zones, according to the researchers: Arctic, Antarctic, Temperate and Tropical Epipelagic (near to the ocean surface), and Temperate and Tropical Mesopelagic. The diversity of viruses tended to be highest in the polar zones.
“Viruses don’t care about how cold the water is when it comes to variety,” said co-first author Ahmed Zayed, a research scientist in OSU’s Department of Microbiology. This discovery suggests that multiple viruses fight for the same hosts at the poles, according to Zayed of Live Science.
The researchers compared the genomes of RNA viruses with known hosts to those of the new viruses and sought unusual snippets of viral RNA in host cell genomes, where fragments of RNA can sometimes get left behind.
According to Dominguez-Huerta, the study also determined that 95 of the viruses had “taken” genes from their host cells. These genes assist the host in directing metabolic activities within the cell. This finding states that the viruses meddled with their hosts’ metabolisms in some way, most likely to increase the generation of new viral particles, according to scientists.
After determining which hosts the ocean viruses are most probable to infect, the researchers discovered that about 1,200 of them may be involved in carbon export.
According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, the deeper these carbon stocks sink, the longer they’ll be held in the water before being cycled back into the atmosphere Infection of marine creatures by RNA viruses, according to the current study.
RNA viruses may potentially promote carbon flow by tearing their hosts apart and pouring stored carbon into the ocean, Wilhelm added.