Date Published: November 7, 2006
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): Mary Hoff
Partial Text: When we think of ocean life, we tend to think of sharks and squid and sea turtles and such. Underpinning these large life forms is a massive but much less conspicuous world of microscopic bacteria and archaea. And existing at an even lower rung, bridging the gap between life and nonlife, are bacteriophage (phage) viruses—minute, self-replicating bundles of biochemicals that alter microorganisms’ genetic material and moderate their communities through predation and parasitism. Although unfathomably tiny, marine bacteriophages are also astoundingly abundant—there are about as many of them in a bucket full of seawater as there are humans on the planet. As a result, they can have a cumulatively huge impact as they individually alter the flow of energy, biomass, and genes through the biosphere.