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Trends Microbiol. 2011 Feb;19(2):52-7. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2010.11.002. Epub 2010 Dec 3.

Are low temperature habitats hot spots of microbial evolution driven by viruses?

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Bristol Glaciology Centre, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1SS, UK.


There is an increasing body of evidence to show that viruses are important drivers of microbial evolution and that they can store a great deal of the Earth's microbial diversity in their genomes. Examination of microbial diversity in polar regions has revealed a higher than expected diversity of viruses, bacteria and eukaryotic microbes. Further, the few available studies in polar regions reveal that viral control of microbial mortality is important in these habitats. In this opinion article, we argue that strong relationships between viruses and their hosts in a range of polar habitats could be key in explaining why polar regions are in fact hot spots of microbial diversity and evolution. Further, we argue that periodic glaciations, and particularly the Neoproterozoic low-latitude glaciation, known as 'snowball Earth', could have been periods of intense diversification in aquatic refuges.

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