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Open Access Open Badges Research

Metabolic reprogramming by viruses in the sunlit and dark ocean

Bonnie L Hurwitz14, Steven J Hallam23* and Matthew B Sullivan1*

Author Affiliations

1 Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA

2 Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada

3 Graduate Program in Bioinformatics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada

4 Current address: Office of the Senior Vice President of Health Sciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85724, USA

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Genome Biology 2013, 14:R123  doi:10.1186/gb-2013-14-11-r123

Published: 7 November 2013



Marine ecosystem function is largely determined by matter and energy transformations mediated by microbial community interaction networks. Viral infection modulates network properties through mortality, gene transfer and metabolic reprogramming.


Here we explore the nature and extent of viral metabolic reprogramming throughout the Pacific Ocean depth continuum. We describe 35 marine viral gene families with potential to reprogram metabolic flux through central metabolic pathways recovered from Pacific Ocean waters. Four of these families have been previously reported but 31 are novel. These known and new carbon pathway auxiliary metabolic genes were recovered from a total of 22 viral metagenomes in which viral auxiliary metabolic genes were differentiated from low-level cellular DNA inputs based on small subunit ribosomal RNA gene content, taxonomy, fragment recruitment and genomic context information. Auxiliary metabolic gene distribution patterns reveal that marine viruses target overlapping, but relatively distinct pathways in sunlit and dark ocean waters to redirect host carbon flux towards energy production and viral genome replication under low nutrient, niche-differentiated conditions throughout the depth continuum.


Given half of ocean microbes are infected by viruses at any given time, these findings of broad viral metabolic reprogramming suggest the need for renewed consideration of viruses in global ocean carbon models.