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Microb Ecol. 1998 Nov;36(3):281-292.

The Effect of Cyanophages on the Mortality of Synechococcus spp. and Selection for UV Resistant Viral Communities.

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Department of Marine Science, The University of Texas at Austin, Port Aransas, TX 78373, USA


Viruses that cause lysis of Synechococcus spp. are present throughout the year in the western Gulf of Mexico. The effect of sunlight on loss rates of cyanophage infectivity was determined by incubating natural cyanophage communities and cyanophage isolates (strains S-PWM1 and S-PWM3) in UV-transparent bags at the surface, and at depth, on several occasions throughout the year. Decay rates of infectivity of natural cyanophage communities at the surface, at Port Aransas, Texas, USA, ranged from undetectable to 0.335 h-1, with the highest rates occurring during the summer. During the spring and winter, decay rates of cyanophage isolates and natural cyanophage communities were generally similar, but during summer, decay rates of isolates were as much as twofold higher than the natural communities. In situ incubations at two offshore stations during a bloom of Synechococcus spp. produced decay rates of 0.53 and 0.75 d-1, integrated over the mixed layer and averaged over 24 h. Based on a burst size of 81 viruses produced per lysed cell (measured for natural cyanobacterial communities in the Gulf of Mexico), cyanophages imposed mortality rates of 1 and 8%, respectively, on Synechococcus spp. In contrast, in nearshore incubations in the winter and spring, cyanophages were responsible for removing <1% of the Synechococcus cells on a daily basis. Only an estimated 2 to 3% of contacts led to viral infections (based on theoretical contact rates between host cells and cyanophages, and estimates of cyanophage mortality), regardless of the time of year or concentrations of viruses and hosts. These results indicate that natural cyanophage communities tolerate damage by solar radiation better in summer than in winter. Moreover, net decay rates of cyanophage infectivity in sunlight were similar, whether host cells were present or not, indicating that detectable cyanophage production did not occur during daytime in situ incubations.


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