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Front Microbiol. 2014 Jul 24;5:355. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2014.00355. eCollection 2014.

Environmental bacteriophages: viruses of microbes in aquatic ecosystems.

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Laboratoire Microorganismes: Génome et Environnement, UMR CNRS 6023, Clermont Université Blaise Pascal Aubière, France.


Since the discovery 2-3 decades ago that viruses of microbes are abundant in marine ecosystems, viral ecology has grown increasingly to reach the status of a full scientific discipline in environmental sciences. A dedicated ISVM society, the International Society for Viruses of Microorganisms, ( was recently launched. Increasing studies in viral ecology are sources of novel knowledge related to the biodiversity of living things, the functioning of ecosystems, and the evolution of the cellular world. This is because viruses are perhaps the most diverse, abundant, and ubiquitous biological entities in the biosphere, although local environmental conditions enrich for certain viral types through selective pressure. They exhibit various lifestyles that intimately depend on the deep-cellular mechanisms, and are ultimately replicated by members of all three domains of cellular life (Bacteria, Eukarya, Archaea), as well as by giant viruses of some eukaryotic cells. This establishes viral parasites as microbial killers but also as cell partners or metabolic manipulators in microbial ecology. The present chapter sought to review the literature on the diversity and functional roles of viruses of microbes in environmental microbiology, focusing primarily on prokaryotic viruses (i.e., phages) in aquatic ecosystems, which form the bulk of our knowledge in modern environmental viral ecology.


aquatic ecosystems; bacteria; biogeochemical cycling; food web dynamics; horizontal gene transfers; lysis; lysogeny; viruses

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