Chapter

The ecology of viruses

David L. Kirchman

in Processes in Microbial Ecology

Published in print July 2018 | ISBN: 9780198789406
Published online August 2018 | e-ISBN: 9780191831256 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780198789406.003.0010
The ecology of viruses

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In addition to grazing, another form of top-down control of microbes is lysis by viruses. Every organism in the biosphere is probably infected by at least one virus, but the most common viruses are thought to be those that infect bacteria. Viruses come in many varieties, but the simplest is a form of nucleic acid wrapped in a protein coat. The form of nucleic acid can be virtually any type of RNA or DNA, single or double stranded. Few viruses in nature can be identified by traditional methods because their hosts cannot be grown in the laboratory. Direct count methods have found that viruses are very abundant, being about ten-fold more abundant than bacteria, but the ratio of viruses to bacteria varies greatly. Viruses are thought to account for about 50% of bacterial mortality but the percentage varies from zero to 100%, depending on the environment and time. In addition to viruses of bacteria and cyanobacteria, microbial ecologists have examined viruses of algae and the possibility that viral lysis ends phytoplankton blooms. Viruses infecting fungi do not appear to lyse their host and are transmitted from one fungus to another without being released into the external environment. While viral lysis and grazing are both top-down controls on microbial growth, they differ in several crucial respects. Unlike grazers, which often completely oxidize prey organic material to carbon dioxide and inorganic nutrients, viral lysis releases the organic material from hosts more or less without modification. Perhaps even more important, viruses may facilitate the exchange of genetic material from one host to another. Metagenomic approaches have been used to explore viral diversity and the dynamics of virus communities in natural environments.

Keywords: Phage; lysogeny; lytic cycle; viral shunt; transduction; mycoviruses; viral metagenomics; mimiviruses; prophage; auxiliary metabolic genes

Chapter.  10597 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Aquatic Biology ; Animal Pathology and Diseases

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