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Environ Microbiol. 2007 Feb;9(2):287-97.

Key role of selective viral-induced mortality in determining marine bacterial community composition.

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CNRS-UMR5119, Université de Montpellier II, case 093, Place Eugène Bataillon, 34095 Montpellier cedex 5, France.


Viral infection is thought to play an important role in shaping bacterial community composition and diversity in aquatic ecosystems, but the strength of this interaction and the mechanisms underlying this regulation are still not well understood. The consensus is that viruses may impact the dominant bacterial strains, but there is little information as to how viruses may affect the less abundant taxa, which often comprise the bulk of the total bacterial diversity. The potential effect of viruses on the phylogenetic composition of marine bacterioplankton was assessed by incubating marine bacteria collected along a North Pacific coastal-open ocean transect in seawater that was greatly depleted of ambient viruses. The ambient communities were dominated by typical marine groups, including alphaproteobacteria and the Bacteroidetes. Incubation of these communities in virus-depleted ambient water yielded an unexpected and dramatic increase in the relative abundance of bacterial groups that are generally undetectable in the in situ assemblages, such as betaproteobacteria and Actinobacteria. Our results suggest that host susceptibility is not necessarily only proportional to its density but to other characteristics of the host, that rare marine bacterial groups may be more susceptible to viral-induced mortality, and that these rare groups may actually be the winners of competition for resources. These observations are not inconsistent with the 'phage kills the winner' hypothesis but represent an extreme and yet undocumented case of this paradigm, where the potential winners apparently never actually develop beyond a very low abundance threshold in situ. We further suggest that this mode of regulation may influence not just the distribution of single strains but of entire phylogenetic groups.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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