A team of scientists from SOEST showed for the first time that many novel viruses are present in the fluids circulating deep in the rocky crust of the seafloor known as the ocean basement. Their recently published study also provides evidence that the viruses are actively infecting the many unusual microorganisms that live in the basement.
Viruses are often thought of as a nuisance because of the familiar diseases they cause—common colds and the flu, for example. However, viruses infect every living thing on earth and viral infections have been one of the major creative forces that shape the nature of life on our planet. The first viruses likely originated at the dawn of life billions of years ago. Through relentless cycles of infections, viruses have helped drive the evolution of the diverse life found on our planet and their influence continues to this day.
“The ocean basement was one of the last major habitats on Earth for which we had no information on the number and types of viruses present,” said lead author Olivia Nigro, a post-doctoral researcher of Oceanography. “The volume of water that moves under the seafloor through the ocean basement is enormous. Annually, it is equivalent to the flow of all the rivers on the planet combined.” Hydrothermal vents and plumes, like those found in Hawaiʻi at Lōʻihi seamount, are the most spectacular evidence of that flow.