Viruses Eating Bacteria

Posted on April 21, 2008  Comments (0)

All the World’s a Phage by John Travis:

“Believe it or not, nobody had looked before,” says Suttle. “On average, there are 50 million viruses per milliliter in seawater. The question is, What the heck they’re doing there?” Microbiologists then documented similar, and even higher, concentrations of phages in soil samples. This led to estimates of 1031 bacteriophages worldwide, a staggeringly large number that many scientists initially dismissed. “We can’t wrap our brains around it,” says Pedulla. “If phages were the size of a beetle, they would cover the Earth and be many miles deep.”

According to estimates put forth by Suttle, phages destroy up to 40 percent of the bacteria in Earth’s oceans each day.

The students collected soil from barnyards, gardens, and even the monkey pit at the Bronx Zoo. The scientists then taught the students how to isolate a bacteriophage from the soil by growing the viruses in Mycobacterium smegmatis, a harmless bacterial relative of the microbe that causes tuberculosis. “We guarantee them that the bacteriophage they find will never have been discovered before. We know that because the diversity is so high, and we’ve never isolated the same bacteriophage twice,” says Hatfull.

In the April 18 Cell, Hatfull and his professional and teenage collaborators describe the genomes of 10 soil-dwelling bacteriophages that they had isolated. Of the more than 1,600 genes that the team identified, about half are novel, that is, they don’t match any previously described genes in any other organism.

Science is full of amazing new frontiers. Some other amazing stuff: Thinking Slime MouldsTracking the Ecosystem Within UsRetrovirusesEnergy Efficiency of DigestionOne Species’ DNA Discovered Inside Another’s

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