Virus from depths of the Mariana Trench uncovered

An international team of scientists have retrieved a virus from the Mariana Trench, the deepest place in the oceans.

They’ve isolated a type of bacteriophage from sediments collected at 8,900 metres deep. At its deepest, the Mariana Trench is nearly 11,000 metres deep.

“To our best knowledge, this is the deepest known isolated phage in the global ocean,” says Dr Min Wang, a marine virologist at the Ocean University of China, and author on a paper describing the virus, published in Microbiology Spectrum.

As the category might suggest, the virus infects bacteria: specifically bacteria from the phylum Halomonas, which tend only to hang around the warm water in hydrothermal vents on the sea floor.

“Wherever there’s life, you can bet there are regulators at work,” says Wang. “Viruses, in this case.”

The researchers were looking for viral genetic material in bacteria samples collected from the oceans. Their analysis of this new bacteriophage’s genes suggest that it’s part of a previously unknown viral family.

They also believe it’s “lysogenic”, meaning it invades bacterial cells but doesn’t kill them. When the host cell divides, it passes the viral genetic material on.

Next, the researchers are planning to learn more about interactions between deep-sea viruses and their hosts.

They’re also looking for viruses in other extreme places, “which would contribute to broadening our comprehension of the virosphere,” says Wang.

“Extreme environments offer optimal prospects for unearthing novel viruses.”

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