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Annu Rev Virol. 2016 Sep 29;3(1):197-214.

Viruses as Winners in the Game of Life.

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Department of Biology, San Diego State University, San Diego, California 92182; email:
Rainbow Rock, Captain Cook, Hawaii 96704.
Computational Sciences Research Center, San Diego State University, San Diego, California 92182.
Department of Mathematics and Statistics, San Diego State University, San Diego, California 92182.


Viruses are the most abundant and the most diverse life form. In this meta-analysis we estimate that there are 4.80×1031 phages on Earth. Further, 97% of viruses are in soil and sediment-two underinvestigated biomes that combined account for only ∼2.5% of publicly available viral metagenomes. The majority of the most abundant viral sequences from all biomes are novel. Our analysis drawing on all publicly available viral metagenomes observed a mere 257,698 viral genotypes on Earth-an unrealistically low number-which attests to the current paucity of viral metagenomic data. Further advances in viral ecology and diversity call for a shift of attention to previously ignored major biomes and careful application of verified methods for viral metagenomic analysis.


biogeography; metagenomics; phage abundance; phage diversity; phage ecology; viruses

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