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Microbiol Mol Biol Rev. 2000 Mar;64(1):69-114.

Virioplankton: viruses in aquatic ecosystems.

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Center of Marine Biotechnology, Baltimore, Maryland 21202, USA.


The discovery that viruses may be the most abundant organisms in natural waters, surpassing the number of bacteria by an order of magnitude, has inspired a resurgence of interest in viruses in the aquatic environment. Surprisingly little was known of the interaction of viruses and their hosts in nature. In the decade since the reports of extraordinarily large virus populations were published, enumeration of viruses in aquatic environments has demonstrated that the virioplankton are dynamic components of the plankton, changing dramatically in number with geographical location and season. The evidence to date suggests that virioplankton communities are composed principally of bacteriophages and, to a lesser extent, eukaryotic algal viruses. The influence of viral infection and lysis on bacterial and phytoplankton host communities was measurable after new methods were developed and prior knowledge of bacteriophage biology was incorporated into concepts of parasite and host community interactions. The new methods have yielded data showing that viral infection can have a significant impact on bacteria and unicellular algae populations and supporting the hypothesis that viruses play a significant role in microbial food webs. Besides predation limiting bacteria and phytoplankton populations, the specific nature of virus-host interaction raises the intriguing possibility that viral infection influences the structure and diversity of aquatic microbial communities. Novel applications of molecular genetic techniques have provided good evidence that viral infection can significantly influence the composition and diversity of aquatic microbial communities.

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