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Study on Sargasso sea completed

A team of Bermuda and US scientists has completed a decade-long study of marine viruses, based in Sargasso waters, which has drawn international attention.

The collaboration between the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) and UC Santa Barbara followed microscopic life at an open ocean station near Bermuda. The study, released this month and reported online in the science journal Nature, sheds light on the hidden world of marine viruses.

Although seawater teems with viral life, the majority of the viruses prey on bacteria, rather than targeting larger animals.

The study has found that many of the viruses near the ocean’s surface target oxygen-producing bacterioplankton, releasing nutrients that affect other microscopic life in the sea.

Bermudian oceanographer Rachel Parsons said that marine microbes add up to about 95 percent of the biological matter within the seas.

“As a result of their sheer numbers, and the rates at which they grow, they are responsible for transforming and shaping the distribution of life’s essential elements, and they help control climate on our planet,” Ms Parsons said. “Without marine microbes, life as we know it could not persist.”

The study used samples taken from the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study Site (BATS) a station in the open ocean monitors a 300-metre column of the sea.

According to senior author Craig Carlson of UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, the interplay between viruses and bacteria is vital in governing the sea’s flow of energy and nutrients. The Nature article reports that the study charts “remarkably regular annual patterns” in the sea viruses.

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Published August 30, 2011 at 10:24 am (Updated August 30, 2011 at 10:24 am)

Study on Sargasso sea completed

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