SOEST oceanographers investigate aquatic viruses with $6M grant

Department of Oceanography faculty Grieg Steward and Kyle Edwards, as part of a research team from four universities, received a $6 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) to investigate how the information encoded in the genomes of viruses alters the properties of cells and influences the outcome of viral infections.

“A much more realistic accounting of the nuanced relationships between viruses and microbes is going to be needed if we want to fully understand how the Earth’s microbiome keeps our planet habitable” said Steward.

Steward and Edwards will focus specifically on viruses infecting marine phytoplankton—microscopic organisms that conduct photosynthesis. Phytoplankton serve as the base of marine and freshwater food chains and produce more than half the oxygen on Earth. Viruses are a major source of mortality for phytoplankton and can dramatically alter how the food generated by photosynthesis is distributed in the marine food web.

To make the experimental work easier, one of the objectives of the multi-university collaboration is to develop and adapt microfluidics technology. Microfluidics will enable the scientists to examine—in a droplet of water smaller than mist—how a single virus and a single microbial cell interact. They aim to make new tools and resources in microfluids technology available to the broader scientific community.

Read more at UH News.