Date of Award

5-2011

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Microbiology

Major Professor

Steven W. Wilhelm

Committee Members

Alison Buchan, Erik R. Zinser, Mark A. Radosevich, George S. Bullerjahn

Abstract

The field of viral ecology is still relatively new and many processes by which viruses influence hosts are still widely unknown. One problem is that there are few standardized techniques in virus ecology, making comparisons of data very difficult. To better understand the methodology, we first set out to make a video showing the process for the viral production assay using the “dilution and reoccurrence” method, which has become the standard to analyze production rates in aquatic ecosystems. Using this method, we also determined the production rates of viruses during a seasonal pelagic phytoplankton bloom during a cruise off the coast of the north island of New Zealand in the subtropical Pacific Ocean. Other biotic and abiotic parameters were also compared throughout the bloom. Production rates were within normal ranges, but showed that viruses were very important for the remobilization of nutrients in the nitrogen-limited system.

It is well known that the cyanobacterial genera Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus thrive in the world’s oceans with Synechococcus and other cyanobacterial species also succeeding in freshwater ecosystems. Cyanophages are viruses which infect cyanobacteria and many studies have investigated their diversity using the portal vertex g20 gene in the Cyanomyoviridae family. Although we know that there is significant genetic richness in these phage in marine and freshwater environments, information on their numerical distributions is rare. Using quantitative PCR with the g20 gene, we determined that cyanomyoviruses are ubiquitous and abundant in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as well as within Lake Erie. Using statistical analyses we were able to find correlations between cyanomyoviruses and other biotic and abiotic parameters: in the Sargasso Sea, cyanomyovirus abundance correlated well to biology, but in the other systems there was no significant correlation to biological abundances. This suggests that the constraints of this group of viruses may be different in different aquatic realms.

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