Viromics and biogeography of estuarine virioplankton

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Viruses are the most abundant biological entity in the ocean, and they can influence microbial mortality, evolution and biogeochemical cycles in marine ecosystems. Virioplankton communities in oceans have been studied extensively using viral metagenomics (viromics), but the estuarine viromes remain relatively unexplored. Estuaries are a complex and dynamic ecosystem. My dissertation is dedicated to understanding the composition and distribution of the virioplankton community in the Delaware Bay and Chesapeake Bay by investigating 16 viromes collected from these two bays. A total of 26,487 viral populations (contigs > 5kb) were identified in the two bays, establishing a high quality viromic dataset. The vast majority of the dominant viral populations are unclassified viruses. Viral sequences obtained from marine single cell genomes or long read single molecule sequencing comprised 13 of the top 20 most abundant viral populations, suggesting that we are still far from understanding the diversity of viruses in estuaries. Abundant viral populations (top 5,000) are significantly different between the Delaware Bay and Chesapeake Bay, indicating a strong niche adaptation of the viral community to each estuary. Surprisingly, no clear spatiotemporal patterns were observed for the viral community based on water temperature and salinity. The composition of known viruses (i.e. phages infecting Acinetobacter, Puniceispirillum, Pelagibacter, Synechococcus, Prochlorococcus, etc.) appeared to be relatively consistent across a wide range of salinity gradients and different seasons. Overall, the estuarine viral community is distinct from that in the ocean according to the composition of known viruses. N4-like viruses belong to a newly established viral family and have been isolated from diverse bacterial groups. Marine N4-like viruses were first found in the Chesapeake Bay, but little is known about their biogeographic pattern in the estuarine environment. N4-like viruses were confirmed to be rare in the estuary, and relatively more abundant in the samples from lower water temperature. Viruses which infect SAR11 bacteria (pelagiphage) are one of most abundant viral groups in the open ocean. We found that the abundance and community profile of pelagiphage in the estuaries is similar to that in the open ocean, and has no correlation with environmental factors.