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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1991 Mar;57(3):721-6.

Use of ultrafiltration to isolate viruses from seawater which are pathogens of marine phytoplankton.

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  • 1Marine Science Institute, The University of Texas at Austin, Port Aransas, Texas 78373 1267.


Viruses may be major structuring elements of phytoplankton communities and hence important regulators of nutrient and energy fluxes in aquatic environments. In order to ascertain whether viruses are potentially important in dictating phytoplankton community structure, it is essential to determine the extent to which representative phytoplankton taxa are susceptible to viral infection. We used a spiral ultrafiltration cartridge (30,000-molecular-weight cutoff) to concentrate viruses from seawater at efficiencies approaching 100%. Natural virus communities were concentrated from stations in the Gulf of Mexico, a barrier island pass, and a hypersaline lagoon (Laguna Madre) and added to cultures of potential phytoplankton hosts. By following changes in in vivo fluorescence over time, it was possible to isolate several viruses that were pathogens to a variety of marine phytoplankton, including a prasinophyte (Micromonas pusilla), a pennate diatom (likely a Navicula sp.), a centric diatom (of unknown taxa), and a chroococcoid cyanobacterium (a Synechococcus sp.). As well, we observed changes in fluorescence in cultures of a cryptophyte (a Rhodomonas sp.) and a chlorophyte (Nannochloropsis oculata) which were consistent with the presence of viral pathogens. Although pathogens were isolated from all stations, all the pathogens were not isolated from every station. Filterability studies on the viruses infecting M. pusilla and the Navicula sp. showed that the viruses were consistently infective after filtration through polycarbonate and glass-fiber filters but were affected by most other filter types. Establishment of phytoplankton-pathogen systems will be important in elucidating the effect that viruses have on primary producers in aquatic systems.

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