About 90 percent of the new viruses could not be mapped onto any known viral taxonomy, making them totally new to science.
A new survey has announced that scientists aboard a schooner named Tara reported the discovery of more than one hundred and fifty thousand marine virus species Thursday.
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"Because they're present in such huge numbers, they really matter," Matthew Sullivan, a microbiologist at Ohio State University and senior author on a paper published in Cell, said in a statement.
The scientists identified nearly 200,000 marine virus species, a figure which increases the number of known marine viruses from a little over 15,000. In 2015 a team recorded 5,476 distinct viruses in the ocean before updating the figure, in 2016, to 15,222.
“It expands our knowledge of what the biological entities on our planet are,” Ann Gregory, study author and postdoctoral researcher at VIB-KU Leuven, told Gizmodo.
The world’s oceans cover 70 percent of the Earth and remain largely unexplored.
The new study includes samples from 43 locations in the Arctic which were not included the 2015 and 2016 studies. About 90 percent of the new viruses could not be mapped onto any known viral taxonomy, making them totally new to science.
The researchers highlighted that viruses have the ability to alter how the ocean pulls carbon dioxide out of the air and into the water, explaining that the viruses are made in large part from carbon.
"In the last 20 years or so, we've learned that half of the oxygen that we breathe comes from marine organisms," Sullivan said.
"Additionally, the oceans soak up half of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere."
Viruses are divided roughly into five regional categories or ecological zones, the study found: Arctic; Antarctic; deeper than 2,000 meters; 150 to 1,000 meters; and temperate/tropical waters with depths of 0 to 150 meters.
“Temperature was the biggest predictor of community structure,” Ahmed Zayed, a graduate student at Ohio State University, said and explained that varying temperatures support different kinds of microbial host communities and viruses adapt accordingly.
“I think that people are aware that viral diversity far exceeds that of the vast microbial diversity,” University of Tennessee Professor Alison Buchan added.
“But there have not been a great number of studies that have tried to quantify the extent of that diversity.”
�� #TaraOceans results reveal the importance of the #Arctic Ocean as a reservoir of marine viruses. This work will become a reference for understanding the role of viruses in the responses of the Ocean ecosystem to the impacts of #climatechange ▶️ https://t.co/Xgdu9Pv5pl pic.twitter.com/C7BL71l8yT— Tara Expeditions (@TaraExpeditions) April 25, 2019
Viruses, regardless of not having cells or performing normal biological processes or independently reproducing, are important to the ecosystems in which they exist.
“Perhaps you can mine it for new genes,” Gregory said, stating that “smaller hosts means more hosts, which might mean more opportunity for viruses to diversify.”
The Tara Oceans project aims to compile a more complete inventory of marine microbial and viral diversity by global sampling.
“We were surprised to see the Arctic as a biodiversity hotspot, which is particularly relevant since these waters are among the fastest-changing on the planet due to climate change,” Matthew Sullivan, a microbiologist at Ohio State and the senior author of the study, said.