In a incredible new discovery made by the Tara Oceans Expedition that consisted of more than 200 scientists over a three year span, researchers have surveyed the entire planet and revealed that there are 12 times more ocean viral species than previously known. The finding was revealed in the journal Cell.
“Marine microbes have a profound impact on our Earth. They produce more than half of the oxygen we breathe, they move carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to the sea floor and they make up about 60 percent of the ocean’s biomass, acting as the foundation of the food web in the oceans,” said senior author Matthew Sullivan, a microbiologist at Ohio State University, in a statement. “Without microbes, the Earth, its oceans, and even our human bodies come to a halt. Our lab is helping researchers finally ‘see’ the hidden viruses that infect these microbes.”
The final results discovered 195,727 marine viral species which were grouped into five main ecological zones in the ocean.
The organization of the five groups were a surprise due to the fluidity of water and the movement of creatures through the depths of waters.
“When we examined the genes of the viruses in each of those communities, we found evidence of genetic adaptation to the different zones of the ocean,” said Ann C. Gregory, co-lead author of the study.
In yet another discovery that changes the way we think of cold-weather environments and the potential for life to form and thrive, the researchers found a viral hotspot in the Arctic. Typically, these hotspots take place closer to the equator and not near the poles.
“This suggests that the Arctic could be an unrecognized ‘cradle’ of viral biodiversity beyond the tropics and emphasizes the importance of these drastically climate-impacted Arctic regions for global biodiversity,” said co-lead author Ahmed Zayed.
This extrodinary study of the planets oceans was performed by using a rotating team of more than 200 researchers on the sailboat Tara, where they collected samples of viruses and other organisms from various ocean depths around the world. The Tara is a 36-meter (118-foot) schooner dedicated to environmental research expeditions.
The important of the study cannot be overstated as viruses play a key role in marine ecosystems globally. Viruses contribute to nearly every necessary balance that exists in the oceans and eco-systems would fall apart without them.
With the new information collected researchers can now map out viral populations to help aid in there protection and potentially learn more about their significance in the oceans. In conclusion, the study wrote: “Together, these advances, along with the parallel global-scale ecosystem-wide measurements of Tara Oceans provide the foundation for incorporating viruses into emerging genes-to-ecosystems models that guide ocean ecosystem management decisions that are likely needed if humans and the Earth System are to survive the current epoch of the planet-altering Anthropocene.”