Coastal bacteria and protists assimilate viral carbon and nitrogen

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Coastal bacteria and protists assimilate viral carbon and nitrogen


Martinez-Martinez, J.; Talmy, D.; Kimbrel, J.; Weber, P. K.; Mayali, X.


Free viruses are the most abundant type of biological particles in the biosphere, but the lack of quantitative knowledge about their consumption by heterotrophic protists and bacterial degradation has hindered the inclusion of virovory in biogeochemical models. Here, using isotope-labeled viruses added to three independent microcosm experiments with natural microbial communities followed by isotope measurements with single-cell resolution and flow cytometry, we quantified the flux of viral C and N into virovorous protists and bacteria and compared the loss of viruses due to abiotic vs biotic factors. We found that some protists can obtain most of their C and N requirements from viral particles and that viral C and N get incorporated into bacterial biomass. We found that bacteria and protists were responsible for increasing the daily removal rate of viruses by 33% to 85%, respectively, compared to abiotic processes alone. Our laboratory incubation experiments showed that abiotic processes removed roughly 50% of the viruses within a week, and adding biotic processes led to a removal of 83% to 91%. Our data provide direct evidence for the transfer of viral C and N back into the microbial loop through protist grazing and bacterial breakdown, representing a globally significant flux that needs to be investigated further to better understand and predictably model the C and N cycles of the hydrosphere.

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